SEARLE, 'ART: THE BRITISH PUBLIC KNOWING WHAT IT LIKES...', INK AND MONOCHROME WATERCOLOUR, 1954
- Ronald Searle
- ‘Art: the British public knowing what it likes...'(Consequences of putting Mr Graham Sutherland’s latest portrait on public exhibition)
‘Ronald Searle, A Major Retrospective’, Chris Beetles Gallery, 30 September-1 November 2003; 'Images of Power: From the Jeffrey Archer Cartoon Collection', Monnow Valley Arts, 3 September - 30 October 2011
The completed portrait was presented to Churchill at a ceremony in Westminster Hall on 30 November 1954 and has become one of the most famous cases of a subject disliking their painting. At the unveiling, Churchill wryly described it as, ‘an outstanding example of modern art’, later complaining that it made him ‘look half-witted’. Sutherland had done nothing to disguise the effect of age on the Prime Minister, particularly in the area of his sunken jaw and loose skin beneath his chin. Although Sutherland conveyed fully the distinction and tenacity of the elder statesman, it was nevertheless seen as a lonely image of an angry old man in the twilight of his career.
All that survive are preliminary sketches and oils, as Churchill’s wife Clementine privately destroyed the portrait after seeing how much it distressed her husband. Although the portrait was not displayed before the general public, Searle’s cartoon estimates the reaction of an audience that was accustomed to flattery in public portraiture.