In the only book dedicated to Noël's paintings, Sheridan Morley writes:
"In his lifetime, Noël always reserved his own paintings as first-night or birthday gifts, allowing only one or two to go for the very occasional charity auction and fearing, as he once wrote, that a kind of 'celebrity snobbism' might otherwise make them valued more for their autograph than for their intrinsic worth."
People on the Quay
The Harbour at Portofino
It was not until Noël's lifelong companion Graham Payn decided, 15 years after Coward's death, to sell a significant number of the paintings for charity that any idea of their commercial value was established. Christie's came to estimate their value and with little precedent to work from estimated the 30 or so paintings to be worth £300,000. They actually went for £786,000.
This perhaps bears out Noël's own diary note, decades earlier, "Compared with the pretentious muck in some London galleries... my amateur efforts appear brilliant."
Since that sale the occasional painting has appeared in the catalogues of noted auction houses but the whereabouts of all of them remains largely unknown.
The earliest paintings were watercolours, carried out by Noël when a child, one of the noted ballerina Ann Pavlova found in 'mother's suitcase' the carefully treasured source of so much on Noël's childhood and his early career in the theatre. Together with another painting that Sheridan Morley describes as "... actually it could have been the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, but he had firmly written 'Nell Gwyn' beneath it."
Sheridan says that the watercolours continued through the 1930s and it was, according to Cole Lesley, the result of a visit to Churchill one Sunday that Noël returned a convert to oils.
Perhaps the finest of his paintings are those he carried out in Jamaica. The use of rich primary colours and assicated hues enabled him to create the atmosphere of the tropics, hot, colourful and full of vibrant people at work and play.
One of the largest and finest examples of the Jamaican paintings is in the library at the Alexander House Hotel at Turners Hill in West Sussex.
How many individual paintings there are is unknown but they clearly exist in sizeable numbers and are much sought after. Every few months it seems a new painting is found although on occasion one appears that is probably a forgery or at least the signature is a false addition to a painting by another artist.
Painting in Quotes
"I don't think anyone knows about painting any more. Art, like human nature, has got out of hand." Sebastien, Nude With Violin 1954
"Compared with the pretentious muck in some London galleries... my amateur efforts appear brilliant."
"He was an abstract painter with a very abstract talent."
"My painting is improving a great deal and I think I am mastering gouache." Monday 24 August - Glion, Switzerland