Painted in 1932, The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell is undoubtedly Churchill's masterpiece from the decade. Hung in pride of place above Lady Soames's mantelpiece in the Drawing Room at West House, the painting is a culmination of all that Churchill had learnt since first wielding a paint brush in 1915. Chosen by the artist to be illustrated in the first edition of Painting as a Pastime published in 1948, the painting is a striking manifestation of the artist at his very best.
Capturing the spontaneous movement of vividly coloured golden orfe, the composition combines a masterly demonstration of Churchill's skill and talent in recreating the subtle reflections and texture of water whilst at the same time bringing to life a subject that was particularly dear to him. His grand-daughter Emma Soames recalls 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 Churchill would tap his walking stick, stirring the goldfish to life. The pool was part of Churchill'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.
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 Goldfish Pool 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. The quality of handling is unparalleled within his oeuvre, Churchill's deft brush-strokes enlivening the water's surface, portraying the dynamic interplay of light, reflection and movement with great aplomb.
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