'Look also at the blue of the Mediterranean. How can you depict and record it? Certainly not by any single colour that was ever manufactured. The only way in which the luminous intensity of blue can be simulated is by this multitude of tiny points of varied colour all in true relation to the rest of the scheme. Difficult? Fascinating!' (Churchill, 'Painting as a Pastime', printed in Coombs and Churchill, 2011, op. cit., p.73)
The French Riviera was undoubtedly one of Churchill's favourite painting locations. His visits to the area, and particularly to Cannes, were always a welcome break and proved the perfect respite from the pressures of political life. In 1922, Winston and Clementine moved the family to Cannes for five months, renting the Villa Rêve d’Or for their stay. The year had been a personally and professionally difficult one for Churchill, having become very ill after an emergency appendectomy and losing his seat in Dundee. He stated at the time that he was left ‘without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix’ (Churchill quoted in Mary Soames, A Daughter’s Tale, London, 2011, p. 20). During their stay Churchill painted and rested to regain his health and focus, and finding the area particularly recuperative, it drew him back many times over the coming years.
Churchill was particularly fond of the harbour at Cannes and the present work belongs to a small group of works focusing on the subject that he executed during the 1930s and which he subsequently gave to very close friends and family – the present work and Sunset, Cannes (C305) were gifted to his wife Clementine; Boats in Cannes Harbour (C308) to his eldest daughter Diana; Harbour Scene, Cannes (C306) to his second daughter Sarah; and Sunset at Cannes Harbour (C311) to his son, Randolph.
In the present work, Churchill adopted an especially interesting viewpoint which emphasizes the glistening reflection and refraction of light across the warm Mediterranean water. The fluid impasto and scintillating colour combinations that highlight the rhythmic movement of the sea literally reverberate across the picture plane and clearly demonstrate the lessons he had learnt from what he called 'the modern French School...disciples of Cézanne'. He wrote in 1921 that, 'they view Nature as a mass of shimmering light in which forms and surfaces are comparatively unimportant, indeed hardly visible, but which gleams and glows with beautiful harmonies and contrasts of colour...I had hitherto painted the sea flat, with long, smooth strokes of mixed pigment in which the tints varied only by gradations. Now I must try to represent it by innumerable small separate lozenge-shaped points and patches of colour -often pure colour - so that it looked more like a tessellated pavement that a marine picture...' (Churchill, quoted in Coombs and Churchill, 2011, op.cit, pp.71-3).
Around the time the present work was executed, Winston and Clementine paid their first visit to Chateau de l'Horizon at Golfe-Juan near Cannes, the newly completed home of Maxine Elliot. Maxine was an immensely successful American actress who had been friends with Churchill's mother. Her niece, Diana Forbes-Robertson, remembers that Churchill '...towered above the other familiars of the Chateau who came and went. He was the only person permitted to be late for meals, and the only one who could leave the Chateau to paint at Saint Paul de Vence all day without being scolded as a "gadabout"' (Forbes-Robertson, quoted in Coombs and Churchill, 2011, op.cit., p.145).
In the late 1950s, the present work was included in a highly important travelling exhibition of the United States that was proposed to Churchill by President Eisenhower. The exhibition was comprised of 35 paintings and was the first to be solely devoted to Churchill's work. In his forward to the catalogue, President Eisenhower quoted Sir Oswald Birley who had once remarked 'if Sir Winston had given the time to art that he has given to politics, he would have been by all odds the world's greatest painter' (Eisenhower, quoted in Coombs and Churchill, 2011, op. cit., p.202). The exhibition proved so successful that it subsequently travelled to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, finally, to London.
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