A lost painting by a world-renowned artist has been located forty years after it was purchased by a private buyer.
The work of art by Dutch-born Arthur Benjamins is of Thrust 2, once the fastest car in the world.
Pilot and spearhead of the Thrust project Richard Noble was this week reunited with the painting, which he signed shortly after breaking the land speed record back in 1983.
This is the story of a young man who purchased the painting on something of a whim, and four decades on had it re-signed by his hero at an anniversary event at the Coventry Transport Museum.
When aged 23 most of us are too preoccupied with having fun to make financial investments which will multiply in value.
Those smart enough to make such purchases usually focus on property. But Dave Rathbone of Essex decided to go against the grain and bought a unique painting by a promising young artist.
Dave was a young man in 1983 when the world was abuzz with news a team of British engineers led by entrepreneur and pilot Richard Noble had broken the land speed record.
Noble and his team overcame huge obstacles to see their vehicle, Thrust 2, reach speeds of just over 633mph in the Nevada desert in October of that year.
Shortly after Dave was attending an event celebrating the incredible feat when something caught his eye.
An artist named Arthur Benjamins was gaining a reputation as a leading artist in the world of motorsport. His skill for capturing high-velocity vehicles in his paintings meant he was revered in the worlds of both art and motorsport, despite not yet being thirty.
Benjamins was displaying his work at the event, with a primary focus on his recently completed painting of Thrust 2 in full flight.
Dave was drawn to the image, and at £300, he saw its potential for increasing in value.
“I saw it as a good investment opportunity,” Dave said. “This was an original signed painting by a well-known artist of the fastest car in the world. I loved it straight away, and asked about buying it.”
The purchase was made and Dave was the proud owner of an original work of art of what was perhaps at the time the world’s most famous car.
Benjamins signed the painting, and they managed to get Thrust pilot Richard Noble to sign it too.
However, the purchase almost never took place at all – before Dave showed his interest, it was reserved for a company called Initial Services who had sponsored the car during its famed run.
But fate obviously had other plans, as Initial Services decided against the purchase as their moniker wasn’t as prominent in the painting as they’d have liked due to the angle.
So Dave left with his new acquisition and it took pride of place in his home, much to the chagrin of his young wife Karen, who wasn’t as keen on the painting as her husband!
“I loved it, and it went straight up in the living room of our house – mind you my wife wasn’t quite as keen on it as I was,” Dave laughed.
The painting has been with the Rathbones ever since, and as Benjamins’ fame and renown grew in art circles over time, his original works started selling for thousands of pounds. And then over the years, for tens of thousands of pounds.
His online collections featured images of other famed vehicles, but Dave’s Thrust 2 became something of a lost work – as he kept it as a private piece, its existence largely fell out of general knowledge.
Through the years, the signatures of both Benjamins and Noble began to fade, the passing of time making the little ink squiggles which lent extra value to the piece grow weaker and weaker. This was made starker by the colours of Benjamins’ paints, which remained vibrantly unfaded.
But Dave’s love of the piece remained, and he monitored the careers of both Benjamins and Noble from afar. Both went on to have increased influence in their respective fields.
Noble continued his career work of keeping Britain on top in the world of speed. After piloting Thrust 2, he project managed Thrust SSC, which would break the land speed record, as well as the speed of sound, in 1997.
Meanwhile, Benjamins consolidated his position as one of the world’s leading motorsport artists. He would go on to make a distinct change of direction artistically, his work taking on a more abstract style as the years went by.
But in recent months Dave’s mind has never been far from the painting he owns, as its subject approached the forty year anniversary of its famous achievement.
Then he spotted an announcement online and he saw an opportunity to get his beloved painting re-signed by one of its original signatories.
Coventry Transport Museum, which is home to both Thrust vehicles, planned to host an event open to the public which would celebrate the forty year anniversary of Thrust 2’s record.
The event would include a book signing and Q&A with Richard Noble himself. So Dave and his wife wrapped their painting up and made the 300 mile plus round trip to Coventry on October 4. There they presented the painting to Noble, who once again obligingly added his signature to the piece.
Dave said: “As we’ve been approaching forty years the painting has been on my mind quite a lot. It’s been a tough few months personally for our family and we were supposed to be on holiday when the event at the Transport Museum was on.
“But due to various reasons we were unable to go, meaning we were free to make the trip to Coventry and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to meet Richard again after all these years and ask him to re-sign it, which he was only too happy to do.”
Dave has also been in touch with Arthur Benjamins, who now resides in the United States. Benjamins vividly remembers selling the painting to Dave and the circumstances around the sale. The pair have exchanged friendly emails about the piece which has brought much joy to Dave and his family.
Benjamins recalled Dave telling him at the purchase that his wife Karen would give him “GBH of the ear hole” for spending so much money. Benjamins said he’d never heard the expression before not being a native of the UK, but it stuck with him and became part of his own lexicon, earning him strange looks when he uses it while conversing Stateside!
So what’s next for the painting?
Dave said: “I’ve not had it valued but from research I’ve done online it could go for tens of thousands.
“But it’s got such a strong place in my heart I’m not sure if I can bring myself to sell it just yet. I’d be happy to lend it to a museum or an art gallery – somewhere it would be safe and looked after where the public could see it.
“I’ve loved attending the anniversary event and seeing Richard. Having him sign the painting again has been brilliant and I’m incredibly grateful and a bit relieved I managed to get it here.”