Las Vegas Surprise (This has nothing to do with animal paintings!)


"We should consciously and actively appreciate,
become aware of the world of music,
the magnificence of nature,
the fine art that generations of artists
and craftsmen have bequeathed us."
- Liberace

 

If you are an artist and wish that your work could get wider recognition then here is a story to inspire you, as proof that you never know where your work will end up, no matter how long ago you painted it, especially when you thought you would never see it again .

I went on holiday to America for the first time in 1996, and whilst there I got the surprise of my life in Las Vegas. No, I didn't win a jackpot! It involves a famous piano player, a top Las Vegas tourist attraction, and a portrait I painted many years ago..

The story is this. As a teenager I used to do pencil drawings of pop stars, etc., and give them away to friends (long before I started seriously exhibiting my work). When I was 16 years old I had a friend in London who was actively involved with running the English fan club of pianist Liberace. She noted my ability to do portraits and suggested that I should paint Liberace's portrait and present it to him at the fan club gathering he would be attending in London on Tuesday 31st October 1972, during one of his regular visits to England.

This I did. The portrait was one of the first I did in acrylics, on paper, and is signed with my maiden name. I was told at the time that the photo I worked from was one of Liberace's favourites.

It was a tremendous thrill to be asked to do this and meet Liberace, I found him to be very sweet and down-to-earth. My only regret afterwards was that I presented the painting unframed, as it was on paper and rolled in a tube to make it easy to transport. I thought it would have been so much more professional to have had it framed. However this was probably the right decision, as you will learn.

Over the years I often wondered what happened to the portrait. One always assumes that someone like Liberace must receive hundreds of such items, and I often wondered whether he kept it, gave it away, threw it away, or left it behind in London.

On my visit to Las Vegas I found that the most popular tourist attraction after the hotels and casinos is the Liberace Museum, which houses his priceless collection of antique pianos, customised cars, clothes and jewellery. I could not wait to visit the Museum.

You can only imagine the shock I got when, having paid my admission at the main entrance, I turned around and came face to face with the portrait I had painted, it being the very first portrait you see on entering the Museum. I could not believe my eyes. I never thought I would ever see it again and never imagined it would come full circle 24 years later.

It is surrounded by photos of Liberace and hangs in an alcove over a jewelled upright piano, and is wonderfully framed in a heavy gilt frame (the like of which I would never have been able to afford at 16 - so presenting it unframed turned out to be alright!).

There was an even greater (but equally pleasant) shock to come elsewhere in the Museum. They have a room housing some of the antique furniture from the bedroom of Liberace's Palm Springs mansion, which was his main residence. Hanging on the wall beside the entrance to this room is a framed photograph of his master bedroom at Palm Springs.

In the photograph, my portrait can clearly been seen hanging over the desk in the bedroom. I was astonished (gobsmacked might be more appropriate!). There can be no greater compliment he could have paid me than to have hung the painting in his home.

As far as I am aware, the portrait hung in his house up until his death in 1987, and from then it was transferred to the Museum. The Museum was set up by Liberace back in 1979 to house the enormous collection of pianos, cars, antiques and clothes that he could not accommodate in his houses.

I have since written to the Museum enclosing copies of my old photographs of when the painting was presented in 1972, so that they now have the history of the portrait.

 

Liberace with the portrait - 1972, and Liberace and me at our second meeting - 1973

I have done very few portraits since the one of Liberace, but to this day it remains the best portrait painting I have ever done. I feel very honoured to know that this painting is on public display in such a venue, as it sits at the entrance to the piano gallery which houses pianos that once belonged to Chopin and Gershwin.

So, if you happen to come across one of your old paintings nearly a quarter century after you painted it, I hope you get as much thrill and pleasure from the discovery as I had!

If you're interested in the Liberace Museum, check out the official website http://www.liberace.org/