Legendary Salford painter of popes and presidents Harold Riley dies aged 88

  • ITV Granada Reports examined the career of Harold Riley back in 2017 after he was given the freedom of Salford

Tributes have been paid to the legendary painter Harold Riley, who has died aged 88.

The artist, who was from Salford, is best known for his portraits of several world leaders and religious figures, including three popes, Prince Phillip and John F. Kennedy.

Riley was also the only artist Nelson Mandela sat to be painted for. In fact, Mandela had six lengthy sittings with Harold over 18 months in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

In 2017, he received the freedom of Salford - which gave him the medieval right to parade sheep through the city.

He sold his first painting in the City Art Gallery when he was just 11 years old and spent 70 year of his life documenting the changing face of Salford.

The painting Harold Riley did of Nelson Mandela. Credit: Harold Riley

His most famous portrait of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in 2005 and raised more than $1 million for South African children’s charities at auction in New York.

He had friends in the sporting world, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Dennis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton.

L.S. Lowry, another iconic Salford painter, became his mentor during his career

Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett said: “We are incredibly lucky to have been blessed with two of Britain’s foremost artists of the 20th century – Harold Riley and L.S. Lowry, who were friends for 30 years, charting over 100 years of the social history of Salford through their art.

Harold Riley receiving the freedom of Salford. Credit: ITV Granada

“From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank Harold for all he has done for our great city, he had the true Spirit of Salford with a deep love for the people, communities and an unwavering commitment to his city.

“Harold was a humble eloquent man with a great sense of humour and with the ability to put everyone at ease particularly through his many stories about his life in Salford and wider experiences travelling the world as an artist.

“Harold was a very generous man contributing to numerous good causes across the City over his lifetime.

"The list is long, but to name just one, Harold donated 100 original works to Salford Royal Hospital along with 100 prints of these works that are now on display around the hospital to support patients and staff.

“He will be sorely missed, and Salford is very much the worse for his passing – Rest in Peace Harold.”

Harold Riley with Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law Credit: ITV Granada

Sir Alex Ferguson told The Manchester Evening News: "He had a style of his own and his generosity in supporting countless charities still reverberates round the streets of his home town.

"When Harold spoke of donations of his work to these worthy causes he spoke as if it was the first painting he had ever produced, such was the enthusiasm of his words.

"It was a privilege in my life and for many, many others to call him a friend."

His insights into rich social history of Salford will be remembered for many generations to come.

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