Sir Winston Churchill, La Dragonnière, Cap Martin, 1937
Modern British & Irish Art

Sir Winston Churchill – Painting as a Pastime

By Robin Cawdron-Stewart

A s one of the most famous figures in modern history Sir Winston Churchill is celebrated for both his public and private achievements – and whether leading Britain to victory in the Second World War or building the kitchen wall at his family home in Chartwell, he worked with absolute dedication and intent focus in everything he did. This of course applied when it came to his painting – a major passion in his life – which is celebrated in Sotheby’s 20 November sale of Modern & Post-War British Art.

ir Winston Churchill, La Dragonnière, Cap Martin , 1937

Churchill began painting in the summer of 1915 in the wake of the allied disaster at the Dardanelles. Forced to resign from the Government, Churchill and his family left London and the risk of the Zeppelin bombings for the safety of an old farmhouse near Godalming in Surrey. There one afternoon he noticed his sister-in-law painting a small scene in watercolours and determined to try his hand he set in motion a passion which was to last for the rest of his life. Churchill soon found that watercolours were not his ideal medium, and instead switched to the more robust medium of oil paint, receiving tuition and guidance from some of the leading artists of the day such as Sir John Lavery, Sir William Nicholson and Walter Richard Sickert.

Winston Churchill in the Cabinet Room at No.10 Downing Street, September 1940.
Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Courtesy Cecil Beaton Archive at Chatsworth at Sotheby’s.

His artist friends admired and respected Churchill’s ability as well as his dedication to painting, publishing an essay entitled Painting as a Pastime in The Strand Magazine in 1920-1. This led in 1947 to the then president of the Royal Academy, Sir Alfred Munnings, suggesting Churchill submit two works to the annual Summer Exhibition. Churchill was eventually persuaded, on the proviso that they be submitted under a pseudonym – David Winter. Both were accepted, with one acquired later for the national collection by the Tate.

Sir Winston Churchill, Calanques, Near Marseilles . Estimate £120,000–180,000.

Sotheby’s has a long and established history of offering works by Churchill for sale – including our 2014 sale of the collection of his youngest daughter, Mary Soames. Daughter of History: Mary Soames and the Legacy of Churchill saw the auction record for Churchill smashed twice in the same night, with his celebrated painting The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell (1932, Private Collection) selling for £1,762,500. More recently Sotheby’s offered for sale the very last painting finished by Churchill, also of the goldfish pool, which went on to achieve £357,000.

I must say I like bright colours … I rejoice with brilliant ones, and am genuinely sorry for the poor brown ones.
Sir Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime, first published in The Strand Magazine in 1921/2.

November’s sale features three masterworks by the artist, all showcasing the artist’s incredible talent in capturing landscapes as well as his love of travelling. Throughout his busy life he always found time to holiday abroad, and of course his paints, brushes and easels accompanied him wherever he went. Depicting Calanques, near Marseilles; Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in the South of France and the river Rhine near the Drachenfels in Germany, all three paintings within the 20th November sale show the artist’s impressionistic handling of the paint, and his wonderful ability in capturing light, whether on the aquamarine waters or leafy orchards.

Sir Winston Churchill, On the Rhine . Estimate £70,000–100,000.

Churchill’s paintings offer a fascinating insight into the private side of one of the greatest figures in modern history, and for those keen to learn more Sotheby’s sale of Modern & Post-War British Art, featuring these three works, will be on public view between 16th – 20th November, free and open to all.

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