When the picture was taken, the Bentley was parked with a large group of other vintage Bentleys (probably some kind of club meeting) in front of Prince Albert’s Memorial statue, beside the Royal Albert Hall in London. But to enhance its character in my painting, and remembering a birthday card sent to me by Mike, I decided to use artistic license and place it in a dusty old garage on an ageing flagstone floor. Slanting sunbeams and a dim, shadowy background would add some drama.
Pleased with the final result, I decided to include the painting among my pictures in Seaford Art Club’s annual exhibition at the Crypt last June – but I didn’t bargain for the impact it made...
Among the browsers at the Crypt was a man who, we later learned, was a former member of the vintage Bentley club. For him, my painting was instantly intriguing, prompting him to ask duty steward Anne Benson if the number plate on the car was genuine or simply made up? “If it’s genuine,” he said, “I can probably find the owner.”
“You’d need to ask the artist,” Anne replied and, after further discussion, she decided to give him my number.
Being a Bentley enthusiast he did what he’d proposed and tracked down the car’s current owner - company owner Chris Batty who lives near Leicester - phoning him at 11:30pm to tell him about my painting and give him my number!. Chris was keen to find out more, but thankfully held off phoning me until the following morning.
I was out when he rang, but my wife Sue confirmed that I’d painted his car and told him about my former occupation as a technical illustrator for Reed publications – which included detailed cutaway drawings of cars for Autocar.
Fortunately, the more he learned the more interested he became in my painting, eventually suggesting that, if he liked it, he might like to buy it. When I got home, my wife gave me the news and I called Chris back to arrange to email him the image and give him the picture’s dimensions.
Having seen it, liked it and agreed on price, he then told me he had some other vintage cars that he might like paintings of. “I can also think of a couple of other projects,” he said, “such as some illustrations to hang in my company’s reception area.”
“Well, if that’s the case, its probably best if we come up and see you,” I suggested. “Actually, I could probably come to see you,” he said. “Sleaford isn’t far from Leicester.” “No, no! We live in SEAFORD - on the south coast – near Brighton.” “Ahhh… you sure you want to come all that way?” “Yes, of course, no problem. We’ll turn it into a short-stay break.”
With that, he gave me the name of a good place to stay near Leicester and we fixed up a date to meet.
Some three months later, following an overnight stay in Milton Keynes, we drove to Chris’s company on the outskirts of Leicester. His company is called Lestercast, a specialist in investment casting, making all kinds of things from metals and alloys. These include badges for cars, such as the ‘winged B’ emblem for Bentley cars and the ‘Spirit of Ecstacy’ statuette which tops the radiator of every Rolls Royce.
In person, Chris couldn’t have been friendlier, giving us a guided tour of his factory and talking me through the pictures he wanted: an exterior view of his factory building and a series of little montages illustrating the series of processes employed in investment casting. As you might imagine, I took lots of photographs.
That evening he and his wife took us to dinner, during which he mentioned that he also had a house in France that he’d rather like a painting of… As a result, I’m currently painting a 1930 Ford Model A and have sketches to make of the production processes and the factory building. As for the house in France, I’m waiting for better photographs. But a sale and four commissions from a picture displayed at the Crypt is not a bad result. You just never know who’s looking.