We are grateful to David Coombs for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
The Goldfish Pool was one of Churchill's favourite spots in the garden at Chartwell. Situated just beyond the house itself and surrounded by wonderfully verdant shrubbery including bamboos, hydrangea, acers and cotoneaster, the pool was part of Winston's extensive renovation of all the water features at Chartwell and became a particularly contemplative spot where he could be found feeding his beloved fish right up until the end of his life. His grand-daughter Emma Soames recalled the Sunday ritual for all the grand-children of following their Grandpapa down to the pool to watch him feed the goldfish. Pied-piper like, they would proceed in single file behind him, across the stepping stones to his usual seat by the water-side where he would tap his walking stick, stirring the goldfish to life.
Enthusiasm for the goldfish stretched across all generations: ‘Yesterday Papa and I walked round all the lakes, and in the round one below the pool there are about 1,000 little golden orfe! Isn’t it exciting? They are no bigger than this and pale goldy yellow in colour with here & there a touch of red. They look so sweet swimming about in the weeds. Papa is very much excited, as indeed we all are, and he says their existence is due to the horrible common tenches, pike etc, which would prey on them, having been killed…’ (Mary Soames, letter to Clementine Churchill, 1938, quoted in Mary Soames, A Daughter’s Tale, Doubleday, London, 2011, p.157).
Unlike many of his landscapes at Chartwell, which focus on a wide panorama of the impressive gardens, stretching out over the Weald of Kent, the present work is unusual in zooming right into the water itself taking in the luscious foliage along the water side. More than simply capturing a corner of the pond, however, the picture is an exemplary essay in tonality, combining multiple hues of greens and browns to striking effect with the golden orfe brought to life through flashes of orange impasto that undoubtedly verge on the abstract. Churchill had focused on the same subject in his masterpiece from 1932, which was formerly in the collection of his daughter, Mary, and sold in these rooms for a world auction record of £1,762,500.
This painting of the Goldfish Pool takes on an added significance as it was the last work Churchill ever painted. During the final years of his life, he painted less frequently and not at all after around 1962. His bodyguard Sergeant Edmund Murray (1916-1996), who served with him from 1950 until his death in 1965, provided much support and encouragement in setting up his easel and preparing his brushes. Murray remembered that the final occasion Sir Winston used brushes was at Chartwell around 1962. It is fitting that his final painting should have focused on one of his favourite places in the garden of his beloved home.
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