Harold Riley has developed his reputation as a world leading portraitist. He has painted popes, presidents and royalty, including Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II. His deep affection for his home town cemented a friendship with L S Lowry which began when Riley was a student. Together they worked on a project to record the area and its people, a project which Riley continued until the end of the twentieth century.
As a young man however, Riley’s life had a far more sporting edge – playing for Manchester United as a junior. This love for sport has stayed with Riley throughout his career, having produced portraits of footballing legends such as George Best and Sir Matt Busby, in addition he attended and recorded – with drawings, sketches and illustrations – every British Open since 1946.
It was at his time at the Open whilst documenting some of the most iconic characters to have played the game, that Riley began producing illustrated letters to his brother (a passionate golf lover himself). Anecdotes from the fairways were accompanied by, and often sprawled, around images of golfing icons. Each was both a heartfelt correspondence and record of Riley’s unrivalled access to the tour and its competitors. Unusually not one of the letters was ever sent, which has lead to a fantastic archive of golfing history being, almost unwittingly compiled.
Sixty four years on, whilst planning an exhibition of his work from the Open, Riley turned to his unsent letters. As the letters had been addressed to and intended for Riley’s brother Michael it was he that would have to release the images for use (even though he had never even heard of them let alone received them). One phone call later and after some explanation of the unsent letters existence Michael, of course, granted the necessary permission and so the astonishing collection became open to the world
Harold Riley’s letters started as personal musings and mementos between two brothers and have ended up becoming a truly unique record of sporting history for us all.
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