Meet Cecil Riley

Cecil Riley –  born 1917 –  started painting at the age of 10 and still painting today !!!

Cecil Riley May 2011 - Chris Billington

Cecil Riley in his garden May 2011


Cecil is  a Slade trained artist who has exhibited widely throughout the UK, mainly in London and the Westcountry.

Flowers and Butterflies oil on board

Flowers and Butterflies  – oil on board

He lives in Cornwall with his wife Joan who is also an accomplished painter and they are both a delight to know.  He has produced a vast body of work over the past 84 years and  here are just a few of his recent works in his “Plantscape” series…

Cecil Riley - Agave and Insects (1995) - 36in x 28in - oil on board

Agave and Insects (1995) – 36in x 28in – oil on board


Cecil Riley - Light and Shade - Agapanthus (2007) - 36in x 24in - oil on paper

Light and Shade – Agapanthus (2007) – 36in x 24in – oil on paper


Cecil Riley - Plantscape 3 (2011) 14in x 16in - acrylic and wax crayon on paper

Plantscape 3 (2011) – 14in x 16in – acrylic and wax crayon on paper


Cecil Riley - Plantscape - Autumn 1 (2011) - 36in x 24in - oil on paper

Plantscape – Autumn 1 (2011) – 36in x 24in – oil on paper


Cecil Riley - Plantscape BG (2010) - 14in x 16in - acrylic on paper

Plantscape BG (2010) –  14in x 16in – acrylic on paper

Cecil Riley - Plantscape R-B (2010)- 14in x 16in - oil on paper

Plantscape R-B (2010) – 14in x 16in – oil on paper

36 Responses to “Meet Cecil Riley”

  1. Not in spite of the paintor’s age,but because of his age,he’s capable of making such wonderful pictures.I love them!!My favourite is the “Plantscape”.

  2. Ev kennedy says:

    Beautiful work, keep going cecil.

  3. Ev kennedy says:

    Beautiful work, timeless!

  4. Chris says:

    Thank you Siri, I am sure that Cecil will be especially happy to hear that.

  5. Chris says:

    Thank you for that comment Ev, Cecil intends to carry on well into his hundreds.

  6. Peter Day says:

    Came across Cecil Riley while Googling.
    I believe this is the Cecil Riley who taught me Art at Raynes Park County Grammar School 1948-1952.
    He wasn’t very impressed with my work !!

    If it is he I must say I do like his work.

    Pl ease give him my regards and wish him good health in the future.

    Peter Day

  7. Chris says:

    Hello Peter, Thank you for that comment and I will pass on your message to Cecil.

  8. Ian Dollery says:

    I was fortunate to also be taught by Mr Reilly at Raynes Park Grammar from 1954-60
    He may remember the kid from 1B who won most of the art homeworks – sadly only to rebel against the academic, although always enraptured by art and the spirit that Mr reilly instilled. I am only now returning to complete the art history deghree I should have gone for back then

    I have read of Mr Reilly’s difficulties and send my fondest affection, having only now discovered the vibrancy of his works
    Please forward this message if possible, many thanks
    Ian Dollery

  9. Ian Dollery says:


    I have emailed you but wonder if there are any of Mr Riley’s earlier works on the market. His paintings such as The Hymn to the Light are amazing

    As a pupil of his from 1954-60 I would love to find something of his – I have so far only found Mykanos which does not have his wonderful use of colour

    Mr Riley may remember me from his weekly art homeworks that I loved – mention my little painting of The Mallard (steam engine) that he enjoyed

    Many thanks
    Ian Dollery

  10. Ian Dollery says:


    What ever happened to the wonderful wall painting that Mr Riley is photographed in front of at Cornwall Art ?

    Ian Dollery

  11. Chris says:

    Hello Ian, Sorry for the delay in replying but I had a chat with Cecil this evening and your messages brought back some distant but fond memories for him.

    If you would like to email me with your phone number, direct at, I will pass it on to Cecil and he may well give you a call.

  12. Jess Williams says:

    We met Cecil and Joan briefly in a cafe in Newlyn about 15 years ago; they were absolutely charming. We had bought one of Joan’s paintings from a little gallery in St Just in about 1991 and wanted to say how much pleasure it had given us. I am sorry not to find anything much about her. Can you give me any recent news?

  13. Chris says:

    Hello Jess, Thank you for your contact. The last time that I spoke to Joan and Cecil a week or so ago they were keeping well. Joan no longer paints but Cecil is still at it when he can, I will pass on your regards and tell Joan of the joy her work brings to you and your family.

  14. Chris says:

    Hello Edwin, Yes it most definitely is that Cecil Riley.

  15. Edwin Bray says:

    This looks very much like the A C Riley, Art Master of Raynes Park County Grammar School in the 1950s, whom I remember well. He sported a beard, which comprised hair of varying colours, shades of brown, ginger, grey etc. He was very much into
    into mobiles, and if I recall correctly models of the Kon Tiki raft, and puppetry.
    I recall well him looking over my shoulder and saying “My boy, there is no
    accounting for taste, or in your case a complete ack of it.”

  16. David Mayer says:

    I remember them – Cecil Riley AND Edwin Bray. I can just picture them both at that moment and I’m still chuckling. Cecil was also less than impressed with my Kon Tiki raft, though I don’t recall his exact words. But he did give me a lifelong love of trad jazz; he ran a weekly jazz society after school (or was it in the lunch break?) where we would listen to records of the New Orleans greats and gravely discuss the playing of Muggsy Spanier compared with Louis Armstrong.

    What a delight to discover that not only is he still around, but still active (at least, I hope he is). I wonder if he’s still as keen on jazz. My best regards to him.

  17. Douglas Dwyer says:

    Cess Tommy Trinder and Henry were in my opinion the most agreeable and dedicated teachers in my 54-59 period . Only Cess Provided Sidney Bechet ,Django Reinheart and Stravinwki accompanyment whilst allowing me to use copious amounts of powder
    paint to produce 3D galaxies.
    His portrait of Headmaster Henry Porter used to be displayed in the school.
    His un-orthadox approach remains, his sung telephone christmas greeting is eagerly awaited.

  18. Chris says:

    David, you will be delighted, but probably not surprised, to know that Cecil is still very active and continues to produce fabulous work to this day.

  19. Chris says:

    Hello Douglas, I shall be seeing Cecil next week and I will pass on this message, I am sure he will remember those 3D galaxies, and yes not long to go now before the 2014 telephone christmas greeting 🙂

  20. Chris Shoebridge says:

    Heart-warming to see that Cecil and his wife are still alive and active. I was at RP from 1959-1967, a rather younger contemporary of his son, Paul. I was never a great artist but he may remember me as an actor: I played the title role in André Obey’s “Noah” and was in many Shakespeares. He and Joan entertained a group of “Noah” actors at their home in Richmond during the rehearsal period.
    It was a great pleasure to speak to him by phone in the summer of 1996 when I took my mother to Penzance for a holiday and found his work displayed in the lounge of our hotel, but time did not permit a meeting.
    Please pass on my warmest good wishes, and my thanks as the representative of a wonderful team of teachers to whom I owe more than I could ever hope to repay, but I hope that, in my own work as a teacher, I have done something to prolong that tradition.

  21. Rob MCINTOSH says:

    Mr Riley was my house master at Raynes Park. (Cobbs) A really nice bloke. Didn’t get to know him that well as I wasn’t a great artist. I think that when Mr Riley retired and moved down to Cornwall Cobbs was disbanded and I got moved into Miltons! He always wore brightly coloured clothes, usually corduroy with a floppy cap, smoked a pipe and was a right old hippy. The year I went to Raynes Park was its first year as a comprehensive having previously been a grammar school. I have a feeling that some of the teachers resented having to teach boys who would have gone to Secondary Modern in the “11 Plus” system. It didn’t seem that Mr Riley was one of those though. He always had time for people. Nice man. I’m still in touch with Mr Gleed who was my biology teacher. Lovely fellow too. I think he was the Halliwells house master. I enjoyed my time at Raynes Park. All my kindest regards to Cecil and many thanks.

  22. Chris says:

    Hello Chris, Thank you for your post and I will pass on this message to Cecil. I am sure that he will remember you, he still has a pin sharp memory and wit to match, and yes that show you are talking about was at The Queens Hotel in Penzance and Cecil still reminisces about that one. Paul actually has a studio in Devon.

  23. Chris says:

    Hello Rob, I will pass your regards on to Cecil and yes he still wears some pretty flamboyant clothes!

  24. Malcolm Munro says:

    Profusely sorry to have lost touch over the last couple of years. Art teaching probably changed for the worst during my career (not my fault!). Teachers became barren midwives.

    I am still developing as a painter at 70 years, but can’t make head or tail of the contemporary scene. Living on the edge of Michael Andrews’ East Anglia. (Does anybody remember him?)

  25. Nick Boreham says:

    One of the all-time greats! I was at RP 1956-63. My art was rubbish but Cess Riley was always encouraging, a truly brilliant teacher. He ran the Da Vinci Society which offered lunchtime talks on art history, took kids on trips to the Tate gallery, let me use the art room outside lessons and lots more. I can’t thank him enough!

  26. Martin Dudley says:

    Like Nick above I and and so many others all benefited from Cecil (and Joans’s) interest and support and friendship, each of us made special. Extra curricular visits, house parties (imagine that being countenanced today), freedom to experiment all given by Cecil with pleasure and the odd word in the ear.

    Sad to see he and Joan are now gone, as reported here

  27. Chris says:

    Martin, Thank you for your comment and link to the Western Morning News article from November last year with the very sad news on the death of Cecil.

    Having not spoken to Cecil since late summer with my going back and forth to France I realised that something was wrong when I didn’t get my annual Christmas phone message from him and a part of me didn’t want to find out what had happened, and I am sad that at the time I was over in France.

    Both Cecil and Joan were gentle and beautiful souls and it was a deep honour to have known them both, and the impact that Cecil had on my life was immeasurable, my thoughts are with Nikki and the Riley family.

  28. Dear Cecil and Joan! I just learnt of their passing through a notification from W.H. Lane about the studio sale they are holding in Penzance on the 28th of this month.

    I knew them and their wonderful work best in the late 80s and early 90s when they would let me display examples at Visions and Journeys Gallery in St Just that I ran with my wife Gabrielle. I particularly remember the extraordinary altarpiece that Cecil made for St Peter’s in Newlyn at around that time. Does anyone know where there is an image of it online?

    Another surprising discovery made when I saw the illustrations in the Lane’s email was that in their studio collection Cecil and Joan seemed to have a piece, a mermaid painting, by Howard Morgan, now a society portraitist in London, who had been a close friend of mine at Newcastle University in the late 60s. How strange to be reminded of such separate spheres of memory together in the same email!

  29. Chris says:

    Hello Tom, Yes the forthcoming W H Lane auction includes a substantial studio sale of the work of both Cecil and Joan.

    It takes place on 28th July, with preview days as per the link below, and as with all W H Lane auctions bidding can be carried out in person, online or by phone.

  30. Chris says:

    Along with the paintings of Cecil Riley I have been told that two paintings of mine, which belonged to Cecil and were part of his collection, are also in the sale – ‘Winter Sun On Turner Contemporary’ and ‘What! – Higgs Boson – A Call From Cecil’.

    They both have very low reserves and there is a story behind ‘What! – Higgs Boson – A Call From Cecil’ which I am happy to relay to the new owner of the painting should it be sold.

  31. Warwick Peak says:

    I used to really enjoy the art classes. I always left the class feeling excited although my efforts weren’t memorable. I remember him melting down the empty lead paint tubes to make the feet of the puppets. He was always full of praise for someone who had a different idea.

  32. Robin Barfoot says:

    Just found this all about Cecil “ Cess” Riley. I was at Raynes Park with my identical twin, John. We were in Gibbs house from 1951 to 1958. Cess may remember us as we were the only twins. I ended up in Toronto where there are other RPOBs living- David Weston, John Thresher, Keith Whitmee. Doug Pollard lives in Victoria. BC. Mike Barry was also here but he died about a year ago.
    When the Canadian contingent get together we always talk about our teachers. Cecil was very popular and often gets mentioned.

  33. John Street says:

    I’ve searched for and found information about Cecil several times in the last few years and am sad to learn of his passing but forever grateful for his humanity, encouragement and friendliness towards pupils. I was a student at Raynes Park Grammar School between 1961 and 1968; Cess, along with a small handful of other decent teachers, was a saving grace in an otherwise authoritarian institution I was happy to leave, after which I went on to art school and painted on and off for the next ten years. Thanks for reviving his memory, all the way down in southern Tasmania where I now live.

  34. Rob Huntley says:

    Hi rob
    Is mr gleed still alive?
    He was instrumental in my love of biology which led me to taking a zoology degree and a lifetime in teaching. I also loved art with Cecil

  35. Chris says:

    Thank you for that comment John, I am sure that Cecil would have been enthralled to know that one of his former pupils was now living in southern Tasmania with its diverse range of flora and fauna and rich history.

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