The painting by Britain’s greatest war-time leader is appearing on the market for the first time since it was gifted by Sir Winston Churchill to his bodyguard Sergeant Edmund Murray.
The work depicts the beloved goldfish pool in the garden of Churchill and his wife Clementine’s home at Chartwell – the place most closely linked to his development as a painter.
Winston Churchill discovered painting when he was 40, in the wake of the debacle of the 1915 Dardanelles campaign, which, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he had been responsible for instigating.
From this moment on, painting was to form an essential part of his life and he rarely travelled without his paint-box – a passion that would endure far into old age. On many occasions, he remarked that the “Muse of Painting came to his rescue”.
The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell depicts one of the series of water gardens near the house at Chartwell, where he especially enjoyed feeding the golden orfe, whose descendants still swim in the pool at Chartwell. Churchill and Clementine had bought the house in 1922 – a purchase that was made possible by an unexpected inheritance from a distant cousin – and were to live there for 40 years. Chartwell not only became the family home and a beautiful venue for entertaining guests, but also Churchill's cherished country retreat and a constant source of inspiration until his death in 1965.
THE GOLDFISH POOL AT CHARTWELL, WITH CHURCHILL’S CHAIR BESIDE IT. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLOTTE WEYCHAN © CHARLOTTE WEYCHAN
Unlike many of his landscapes at Chartwell, this painting is unusual in zooming right into the water itself taking in the luscious foliage along the water side. It is an exemplary essay in tonality and near-abstraction, combining multiple hues of greens and browns to striking effect with the golden orfe brought to life through vivid flashes of orange impasto.
Having never sold a work during his lifetime, the vast majority were given by the artist to friends, colleagues, employees, foreign dignitaries or family members. This painting was gifted to his bodyguard Sergeant Edmund Murray, who served with him from 1950 to his death in 1965, and who 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 – he died three years later in 1965.
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, 1941. PHOTOGRAPH BY CECIL BEATON. © THE CECIL BEATON STUDIO ARCHIVE AT SOTHEBY’S.
Memorably, Churchill once remarked: "When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject..."
The sale offers a further work by Churchill, an early landscape painting inspired by the South of France, to be offered with an estimate of £100,000–150,000. An accomplished work from 1922, much like The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell it carries a fascinating story of a very private connection with Churchill and his family. It was given to Miss Maud Elgie, who between 1919 and 1921 had charge over the household’s nursery and Churchill and Clementine’s two eldest children. The sheer enjoyment that Churchill took in the process of painting is apparent in the freely applied and richly textured paint of this warm and bright view.
The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell (Estimate £50,000–80,000) and Landscape with Two Trees (Estimate £100,000–150,000) will be offered as part of the Modern & Post-War British Art Evening sale in London on 21 November.