But one visit wasn’t enough for Riley, a friend of LS Lowry. Over the years he ate there again and again and gave Tony Malatesta, owner of the Little Dolphin restaurant in Church Road, more examples of his now valuable work.
Many artists are well known for paying for meals through giving pictures in return, such as the Scottish Colourist George Leslie Hunter during his time on the Cote D’Azur. However, in this case these Riley paintings were actually gifts rather than payment.
Malatesta has long since retired and the business gone, but the pictures remain, to be sold at Nantwich, Cheshire, auction house Peter Wilson. They feature on the second of a two-day sale of antiques and fine art on April 27.
Twenty paintings and drawings and three prints are on offer.
“We are delighted the family have asked us to sell these works by Harold Riley on their behalf,” says Peter Wilson specialist Stephen Sparrow. “Riley’s significance as an artist has grown significantly in the ensuing years, to the point today where he is collected throughout the world.
“The works in this collection have not been seen for many years and have never been on the market before, which makes them extremely sought after. They cover a diverse range of subjects and imagery, including views of Manchester and appropriately various Italian locations, as well as some very important portraiture, including such notable figures as the Duke of Edinburgh.”
One oil on board, signed and dated ’71, shows Prince Philip seated with arms and legs crossed casually and is estimated at £2000-4000.
At a higher estimate is an expansive view of Portofino, the fishing village on the Italian Riviera, signed and dated ‘61’, which measures 6ft 5in wide (1.96m) wide. It is estimated at £5000-7000.
Nearer to home, a pastel view of the old billiard hall in Liverpool Road, Eccles, signed and dated ’61, is guided at £1000-1500. A sketched pastel cityscape titled Dolphin Restaurant, Manchester is estimated at £300-500.
Early start in Salford
Born in Salford in 1934, Riley sold his first painting when he was 11. He attended Salford Grammar School and won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1951. He subsequently won travel scholarships to study in Florence and Spain before returning to Salford, where he has lived ever since.
His deep affection for his home town cemented that friendship with LS 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 after Lowry’s death.
Alongside this portrayal of ordinary working lives, Riley developed his reputation as a portraitist of the rich and famous. He has painted popes, American presidents and royalty. His sporting works, particularly golf and football, are also highly sought after.
He continues to work in a studio created for him by Salford City Council in a conservation area around the old Salford Fire Station, where his drawings, paintings and photographs of the Manchester and his extensive collection of sports studies are housed.
Extra Dolphin helping
A Riley artwork with the Little Dolphin provenance has emerged in a north-western saleroom before. In May 2015, Italian street scene, oil on panel, signed and dated (19)64, sold for a hammer price of £5400 at Wright Marshall in Knutsford.
The catalogue at the time said that Riley “gave this painting to the then owners of the restaurant Stefano and Anna Steffenini and Tony Malatesta. This painting has remained in the Steffenini family ever since”.