Praised painter of popes and presidents dies

time:2023-06-05 14:54:16 source:Al Jazeera

Tributes have been paid to an artist who was widely praised for his portraits of a host of political greats including Nelson Mandela.

Salford-born Harold Riley, who became the only artist ever granted a sitting with the South African leader, has died aged 88.

He also produced paintings of US president John F Kennedy and three popes.

Salford's mayor Paul Dennett said Riley embodied the "true spirit" of the city.

A statement from his family said: "Salford has lost one of its most humble, compassionate and loving sons. Harold's light shone brightly for all to see and through the legacy of his art, it will never go out.

"He lived by simple principles: to love, to give and to serve every person equally no matter their position, colour, nationality or faith."

The former Salford Grammar pupil sold his first painting in the city's art gallery aged just 11, before going on to study at the celebrated Slade School of Fine Art in London.

He received global recognition for commissioned portraits which also included the late Duke of Edinburgh.

His large rendition of Pope John Paul II - taken from the pontiff's 1982 visit to Manchester - remains on display at Salford Cathedral.

However, he is perhaps best known for the piece he created following six sittings over 18 months in Cape Town and Johannesburg with President Mandela, with the final meeting held in 2002.

Riley told BBC Radio 5Live 10 years ago when Mandela died that the ANC leader did not know how to pose for the picture.

He said: "When I went in to see him, he was reading the newspaper in a comfortable chair in his lounge and he said, 'what do you want me to do?'".

"I said, 'just do what you're doing. Read the newspaper, Mr Mandela, and I'm going to draw.'"

He was given the Freedom of Salford in 2017, following in the footsteps of his friend LS Lowry - the city's most famous artist.

He completed postgraduate studies in Italy and Spain before returning to his beloved Salford, where he began to chronicle scenes from what he considered to be a disappearing way of life on canvas, sketch and photographs.

The artist once told BBC North West Tonight that living in Salford helped keep his feet on the ground.

"I can go to the Vatican to paint the Pope but I still have to go to the chippy across the road when I come home," he added.

The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where Riley had painted landscapes, golfers, and the community, said it would miss his work "enormously", adding: "We mourn the loss of Harold Riley our friend and celebrated artist who, for the past 25 years, worked to bring the Alfred Dunhill golf championships to life on canvas."

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