FAMOUS Salfordian artist of sporting works and portraits, Harold Francis Riley, received the Freedom of Salford award for his generosity to good causes and for being a true friend to the city.

The Freedom of Salford was presented to artist Harold Francis Riley yesterday at a ceremony in Salford Museum and Art Gallery.

The 82-year-old local artist was bestowed the honour on account of his commitment and passion towards his home city as well as his generosity to local, national, and international good causes.

Awarding Mr Riley during the ceremony at the museum and art gallery was the Ceremonial Mayor (Councillor Peter Connor), the City Mayor (Paul Dennett), Chief Executive (Jim Taylor), and the City Solicitor (Miranda Carruthers-Watt).

After the ceremony it is traditional for the recipient to drive a small flock of sheep and hold and unsheathed sword, both of which Mr Riley did along The Crescent yesterday afternoon.

The sheep to be driven by Harold Francis Riley after he is awarded the Freedom of Salford.
The sheep to be driven by Harold Francis Riley after he is awarded the Freedom of Salford.

In an interview with Quays News, the City Mayor, Paul Dennett, stated: “It is an honour we can bestow upon people within the city of Salford.

“The motion has been unanimously supported and we are here at Salford Museum and Art Gallery to celebrate the life of Harold Riley and his commitment and dedication to the city of Salford through art.

“Today is about Harold and how he has shaped what we do here at the Museum and Art Gallery today.

“We will be celebrating the fact that he has the Freedom of the City and is such a special person in Salford’s history.”

Mr Riley sold his first painting to the City Art Gallery at the age of 11 and throughout his 66 year-long career has painted portraits of celebrities and world leaders, including Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, and Prince Phillip.

In fact, Mr Riley was the only person whom Nelson Mandela agreed to sit for, and he did so on six prolonged occasions in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with the resulting portrait raising over $1 million, at auction in New York, for children’s charities in South Africa.

To prepare for the portrait of Nelson Mandela, Mr Riley did a series of drawings that he later compiled into a book which sold 50 copies at £17,500 each.

Mr Riley donated all the proceeds to the Riley Educational Foundation which he created to take care of his life’s work while also promoting art in the North-West of England.

While discussing Mr Riley’s work, Mr Dennett went on to say: “What I think is also important about Harold’s work is that it is not just about big figures in life, and in society, but it is about capturing the social history of a place.

“Salford, certainly with its post-industrial history and working-class communities, very much features in Harold Riley’s work. He is about trying to capture the everyday.”

Other well-known individuals who have sat for portraits by Mr Riley include: Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, Princess Alice the Duchess of Gloucester, Pope John XIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and United States President Gerald Ford.

Mr Riley was a lifelong friend of fellow Salfordian artist L. S. Lowry, after he helped Mr Riley to sell his first painting, and the two joined forces to document the changing face of Salford and the people within it.

Mr Dennett described the relationship between the two artists in stating: “Both Harold and L. S. Lowry knew each other, they were friends.

“Their work, in terms of capturing the social history of Salford, spans well over 70 years; and what is really interesting is that both the artists are interested in the same phenomenon.

“It is the working class communities and post-industrial environment that motivated them to continue to depict what is happening in the city of Salford.

L. S. Lowry received the Freedom of Salford himself in 1965.

Earlier this year, Mr Riley also raised £55,000 for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and their ‘Childline’ service with a sketch of his wife which he drew from his hospital bed in intensive care at Salford Royal Hospital.

In addition to this act of kindness, Mr Riley has also donated a vast collection of 500 pieces to Salford Royal Hospital including photographs, monographs, views of MediaCityUK, sporting images, and portraits all with a Salfordian theme.

An archive and studio has been created by the Salford City Council for Mr Riley near the old fire station on the Crescent in Salford.

Mr Riley attended the ceremony with family and friends and gave his acceptance speech afterwards, inviting another famous commission, Sir Alex Ferguson, to say a few words on his behalf.


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