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Art collection becomes a lifeline for a loyal housekeeper Add to ...

It was an unusual bequest from the dashing Second World War hero, General Robert Moncel, to his loyal housekeeper, Aleida Englehard – a $340,000 trust fund and his collection of English watercolours, including one believed to be by Thomas Gainsborough and another by John Constable.

There was a catch. The art collection would go to Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., where the Moncel family had strong connections, to be put on display for the public to enjoy. If, however, Ms. Englehard’s inheritance fell below $100,000, she could sell the paintings for her benefit.

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That time has come – nearly seven years after Gen. Moncel died at age 90, leaving everything to Ms. Englehard, who came from the Netherlands in the 1950s and looked after his family’s seaside estate at Murder Point in Nova Scotia’s picturesque Lunenburg County.

Ms. Englehard’s inheritance has been whittled down to $88,149, triggering the sale of the artwork, according to Supreme Court of Nova Scotia documents. She lives in a seniors’ residence in Halifax, which costs about $50,000 a year. She is mentally incompetent, the documents say, and has a guardian, Karri Zinck, who lives in Lunenburg County and looks after her financial affairs.

Neither Ms. Zinck nor Alan Parish, Gen. Moncel’s lawyer and executor and trustee of his estate, will talk about Ms. Englehard, who is believed to be in her 80s.

Earlier this month, Mr. Parish went to court asking to be removed as the trustee. He noted that the “situation has now developed” that the watercolours be returned to Ms. Englehard “so that they can be monetized for her benefit.”

But the artwork – despite the apparent presence of a Constable and Gainsborough – may only bring in a modest amount. Mount Allison has not put any dollar value on the collection, which it received in 2011. It never displayed the works in its gallery. Although it has an option to buy the collection, according to court documents, it does not want it.

“We would say that they are not among the leading works of either one of those painters [Gainsborough and Constable],” said Gloria Jollymore, vice-president of university advancement at Mount Allison.

Susan Robertson, an international art specialist with Waddington’s in Toronto, says it’s difficult to put a value on the watercolours without carefully examining them. But she looked for auction records for similar drawings by Thomas Gainsborough and came up with nothing. “There was more than one Gainsborough artist as well, which complicates things,” she noted.

Gen. Moncel was an art collector and painter. His obituary notes that one of his own works was displayed at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in London.

The general was born into a well-to-do Montreal family; his father was a successful businessman whose chauffeur drove him home for lunch every day, according to author and journalist Ron Graham, who is Gen. Moncel’s nephew.

In a story he wrote about his family that appeared in the The Globe and Mail, Mr. Graham described his uncle, who attended a private English school for boys in Westmount and embraced everything British, as having the “looks of David Niven [the British actor].” Christened Robert Guillaume Napoléon, he later anglicized his name to Robert William.

He was the youngest brigadier in the Canadian army, commanding the 4th Armoured Brigade when he was 27. Among his many awards for bravery and leadership during the war was the Distinguished Service Order. He was also given the Order of the British Empire and the Order of Canada.

He married well – Nancy Allison Bell, who was called “Billie.” Her father, Ralph Pickard Bell, was a rich Nova Scotian who made his money in timber and fish. He had owned the Murder Point property. Mr. Bell and his second wife, Marjorie, are among the largest individual donors to Mount A – at least one of their endowments is worth about $18-million now.

In 1968, Gen. Moncel, who had served in senior military positions, and his wife retired at Murder Point. He liked to paint, sail his boats and walk his dogs on the grounds and look after the gardens and orchards on the estate. Both his wife and their only child, Renée, predeceased the general.

“Bob Moncel was a wonderful composite of talent, bravery, sophistication and charm,” said Mr. Parish, who as a young lawyer practising in Lunenburg ran the local hospital for a time with Gen. Moncel. The two became friends and, as the years went by, Mr. Parish was appointed the general’s guardian.

In 2003, he prepared his will, asking that his ashes be scattered on “the dog burial ground at Murder Point” and leaving his estate and the 21 watercolours to Ms. Englehard.

“Unless Aleida Englehard desires to keep my collection of English watercolours for her own use or has some other use in mind for either them or any funds their sale may produce, it is my wish that my collection of English watercolours be added to the collection at Owens Art Gallery of the Faculty of Arts, Mount Allison University.”

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