A 19th century oil painting, of the Louth to London Royal Mail coach, which was owned and treasured until his death last year by Van Cliburn, once described as ‘the most famous pianist on the planet,’ is set to fetch between £1,200 and £1,800 at an auction in America next month.
The 13 inches by 24 inches picture, titled Louth-London Royal Mail, is by London artist Charles Cooper Henderson (1803-1877) and it is among more than 300 antique possessions of the late Van Cliburn which are expected to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at Christie’s at the Rockefeller Plaza in New York on March 5.
Before Louth railway station opened on March 1 1848, mail was delivered to and from Louth by horse-drawn mail coach, or post coach. A guard, armed with a blunderbuss and two pistols and dressed in Post Office livery of scarlet and gold, sat at the back of the coach next to the mail box.
Charles Cooper Henderson painted at least two pictures of the Louth mail coach, the other being titled A Mishap On the Louth to London Royal Mail Coach, and was best known for his coaching scenes, two of which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.
In her Dictionary of British Equestrian Artists, Sally Mitchell said: “Henderson was one of the major coaching painters of the 19th century. His horses are painted with considerable strength, delicacy and fluidity. They have good speed and forward movement. The wheels and coach as well as the horses are usually well mud splattered in a very distinctive style.”
Van Cliburn – who owned the Louth mail coach painting until his death last year – became ‘the most famous pianist on the planet’ at the age of 23, in 1958, when at the height of the Cold War, he won the first Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow.
When he returned to America, he was greeted by US President Eisenhower and also became the first classical musician to be honoured with a ticker-tape parade in New York.
His RCA disc of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto was the first classical record to go platinum by selling more than one million copies. Time Magazine described him as ‘Horowitz, Liszt and Presley rolled into one.’
In 1987, he performed at the White House for President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Van Cliburn was 78 when he died on February 27, 2013.