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Sometimes it pays to take a second look at a work of art. When this ‘copy’ of a painting by wartime artist Sir William Orpen was first taken to the Antiques Roadshow, it was judged to be nothing special. Irish portrait painter William Orpen created his artwork The Spy – of his mistress Yvonne Aubicque – as an escape from the daily trials of covering WWI. The name of the painting aroused suspicions of the censor, Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, according to expert Rupert Maas. The idea of a spy was extremely tricky because the English spy Edith Cavell had just been executed and Mata Hari had also been executed,’ Mr Maas said. Orpen was summoned back to London to explain himself and he tried to bluff it by creating a story. He said that the woman was a German spy who was to be shot by the French and he had been allowed just an hour to paint her.
He said that she had been given the greatcoat to wear by one of the guards and she was hoping that when she took it off her simple beauty would astonish the firing squad and they wouldn’t be able to pull the trigger. Orpen then came clean and admitted the painting was of his lover. He was facing a court martial, but charmed Lft Col Lee with the help of Lord Beaverbrook. The painting was renamed The Refugee. In a further twist, Ms Aubicque became involved with Orpen’s chauffeur after the artist left France – and the pair both spied for Britain during WWII. Grover-Williams was caught and shot and Yvonne returned to Britain, where she became a judge at dog show Crufts.