As an artist, Churchill is best known for his landscapes: sweeping depictions of the weald of Kent, sun dappled villas in the South of France, or exotic vistas of Egypt or Morocco. Rarely does the figure creep into his landscapes; rarely did he paint portraits of friends and family, and rarer still does the great man himself appear in the composition. Of his vast output of over 500 canvases, the present work is one of only a handful of self-portraits, and is particularly unique in that it shows Churchill in the act of painting, his beloved pastime which had been his respite since picking up a brush in 1915.
The wonderfully flowered loggia seen in the present work is a spot at Chartwell that Churchill clearly cherished, also appearing in his Still Life: Randolph Churchill under the Pergola at Chartwell. Chartwell, the much-modified Elizabethan manor house near Westerham in Kent, was not only the family home and a beautiful venue for entertaining guests, but also Churchill’s beloved retreat and a constant source of inspiration until his death in 1965. Initially enchanted by the magnificent views over the Kentish Weald, Churchill and his wife Clementine bought the house in 1922 – a purchase made possible by an unexpected inheritance from a distant cousin – but it was not until the spring of 1924, after some substantial refurbishment work, that they were finally able to move in.
For Winston, Chartwell provided the perfect space where he could write and work while not in London, but the home was also (and perhaps most importantly), a place of tranquillity to enjoy family life and to paint. The visitor’s book at Chartwell documents the frequency with which the house was filled with various members of the extended family, friends, and Winston’s colleagues. Conveniently located within a short drive or train ride from London, Winston often brought associates from Westminster down for lunch, over which business, politics and current affairs would be passionately discussed. Apart from Churchill’s political allies, the house also counted notables such as T.E. Lawrence (who would roar in on his motorbike), Charlie Chaplin, and a range of artists including William Nicholson, Paul Maze, and Walter Sickert amongst the frequent guests.
It was not just the house and the views over the distant woods and valleys that Churchill prized, but also the wonderful Arts and Crafts inspired garden, with its lake and fishponds, rose, kitchen and water gardens. Much of the work on the grounds he undertook himself, finding the act of bricklaying to be particularly engaging and a wonderfully therapeutic task. For Winston, days at Chartwell, if not occupied by work or a building task about the estate, were often filled with painting. When he was not painting directly in front of his subject, he worked in his studio, an outbuilding which had been converted for this purpose in the 1930s.
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