Some Characters Seen at Cheltenham on Gold Cup Day, is the title of one of the most interesting and desirable paintings to appear at auction in Ireland in many years. It will go under the hammer at the Lynes & Lynes Auction Rooms in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork next Saturday morning with a modest estimate of €5,000-€10,000.
The painting is virtually unknown in the art world but it has been on public view for decades – in a hotel in Co Tipperary – and has been widely admired by a surprisingly international clientele.
The artist was Waldron West, a little-known English painter, from Worcester, who died in 1994. The painting, which is almost 7ft wide, depicts 27 recognisable people assembled at the famous racecourse in the Cotswolds in 1950.
All are characters with a keen interest in racing and all are real people. Some are famous public figures; others are well-known in the racing world, and the artist imagines them all together in a fascinating line-up.
Great and good
The painting is a unique mid-20th century visual record of the annual meeting of the “great and good” of British and Irish society which occurs at the
every year in March.
Among those depicted are Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth) wearing a white hat and blue coat; a cigar-smoking Sir Winston Churchill and his head-scarfed wife, Lady Spencer-Churchill; Keith Piggott, the renowned trainer and father of jockey Lester Piggott; Dan O'Brien, the Tipperary trainer and father of Vincent O'Brien; a fur-coated Anne, Duchess of Westminster, the owner of Arkle; Barry Fitzgerald, the Irish film actor who starred in The Quiet Man; the exotic, turban-wearing Prince Monolulu, a famous racing tipster; and the artist, Waldron West, himself, disguised as a policeman.
The oil-on-canvas painting, measuring approximately 6ft 10in by 2ft 5in, hung for many years in the Guinness Bar in the cellar of the Cashel Palace Hotel in the centre of Cashel, Co Tipperary. The hotel, at the foot of the Rock of Cashel, closed at the end of 2014 with the loss of 32 jobs.
The Murphy family who owned it recently sold it for an estimated €2.25 million. The buyer is understood to be a consortium involving
, and it is believed the hotel will be luxuriously refurbished and extended before reopening.
It is located in the heart of Co Tipperary’s bloodstock industry and is close to both Coolmore Stud and Ballydoyle stables.
The Cashel Palace Hotel is one of Ireland’s most architecturally important hotels and is housed in a distinctive, red-brick Queen Anne-style building dating from 1730. It was built for the early 18th-century Protestant archbishop of Cashel, Theophilus Bolton.
The walled garden contains descendants of the original hop plants reputedly used by Richard Guinis, an agent for the archbishop in the 1740s, to brew the very first “Guinness”.
The Church of Ireland sold the palace, in 1959, to Lord Brocket, an English millionaire and entrepreneur, who opened it as a luxury hotel in 1962.
The hotel changed hands a few times over the years and was owned, for a time, in the 1970s by the late Vincent O’Brien, who founded the Ballydoyle Stables and is widely regarded as the greatest racehorse trainer of the 20th century.
Mr O'Brien died in 2009, aged 92. His daughter Susan is the wife of John Magnier, owner of Coolmore Stud.
In addition to selling the hotel, the Murphy family is selling some contents which, apart from the painting, include the grandfather clock from the Cashel Palace lobby – a familiar sight to generations of guests – which auctioneer
says will go under the hammer with an estimate of €3,000-€5,000.
The Cashel Palace Hotel's former barman Denis Heffernan (72), recalls serving customers including a 10-year-old Lady Diana Spencer (later the Princess of Wales), the California governor Ronald Reagan (who became US president) and Hollywood stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
He said the much-admired painting, which was acquired for the hotel in England in 1978, arrived from London, but an accompanying brass plate inscribed with a list of the people in the painting was lost. However, he has assisted in compiling a list of the people in Some Characters Seen at Cheltenham on Gold Cup Day.