The new plastic £5 notes, that were issued in the UK last September, feature the face of one of the most celebrated figures of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill. Like the note itself Churchill was an indestructible force and a face that today is known all across the globe, becoming synonymous with values of courage, bravery, determination and democracy. Sotheby’s London this April plays host to a series of sales that each celebrate the life of this remarkable man.
Together with British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, Oscar Nemon produced some of the most celebrated and recognised sculptures of Churchill, including his 1970 bronze which today stands in the Members’ Lobby of the House of Commons. Nemon met Churchill at the La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech in early 1951 and began a lifelong friendship with Churchill, who was a keen patron and practitioner of the arts, as celebrated in the 2014 sale of the collection of his youngest daughter Mary Soames, which featured 15 paintings by Churchill.
NEMON’S BUST DISPLAYED ALONGSIDE TERENCE CUNEO’S KING GEORGE V STEAM LOCOMOTIVE. ESTIMATE £15,000–25,000.
The Made In Britain auction on 5 April, which is on view from Friday 31 March–Tuesday 4 April, features a fascinating bust of the great man, executed by Nemon in the mid-1960s. Commissioned by the shipping firm DFDS to celebrate the launch of M/S Winston Churchill in 1964, the work was unveiled by Churchill’s widow Baroness Spencer Churchill on 30 May 1967 at a celebration in Greenwich, London. Appearing for the first time at auction this bronze effortlessly captures Churchill’s instantly recognisable features.
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL AT 28 HYDE PARK GATE © PHOTOGRAPH BY CECIL BEATON. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE CECIL BEATON ARCHIVE AT SOTHEBY’S
However this isn’t the only depiction of Churchill being offered in April at Sotheby’s, as Scarfe at Sothebys – a sale celebrating the life and work of the illustrator Gerald Scarfe – is led by one of the artist’s most celebrated images and one of the very last portraits of Churchill executed during his lifetime, at his final appearance at Parliament in July 1964.
Scarfe was commissioned by The Times to record the occasion, and notes “I sketched from the public gallery, and I was shocked to see how he had deteriorated. We knew only the British bulldog Churchill: cigar clenched between teeth, steely eyes, and the famous two-finger salute… The Times refused to print my drawing, saying that Churchill’s wife, Clementine, would be upset when the paper dropped through the letter-box in the morning”. But less than six months later Churchill died. Scarfe had complained about his treatment by The Times to Peter Cook who, according to the artist, ‘saw that the drawing was used for the cover of Private Eye when Churchill died’. A cropped version of the drawing was published on 5 February 1965, and like the Nemon bust, this is the first time that the work has appeared at auction.
LEMANIA, A YELLOW GOLD CHRONOGRAPH WRISTWATCH WITH REGISTERS MVT 12565 CASE 19652, CIRCA 1946. ESTIMATE £15,000–20,000. INCLUDED IN WATCHES, 25 APRIL 2017.
At the end of April we’re also delighted to be offering a rare watch formerly owned by Churchill. In 1946, following his defeat in the General Election Churchill travelled to Europe, offering an opportunity to get back to his painting as well as lecture. In September he and Clementine made an official visit to the city of Lausanne in Switzerland, where the locals presented him with a wristwatch and his wife a painting by François Bocion. The watch was to remain with Churchill for the rest of his life, engraved on the back ‘From the Canton of Vaud to its famous guest Mr. Winston Churchill August-September 1946’.
To many Churchill epitomises the very strengths that Britain stood for over the course of the 20th Century, and these three pieces, all so different in nature, celebrate Churchill’s role, offering a chance to experience and ultimately own a unique piece of history.