Lot 8
  • 8

SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, K.G., O.M., F.R.S., HON. R.A. | Calanques, Near Marseilles

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Sir Winston Churchill, K.G., O.M., C.H., Hon. R.A.
  • Calanques, Near Marseilles
  • oil on canvas
  • 61 by 76cm.; 24 by 30in.
  • Executed in 1948.


Lady Spencer-Churchill, and thence by family descent to Arabella Churchill
Her sale, Sotheby's London, 4th June 2003, lot 56, where acquired by the present owner


David Coombs, Churchill: His Paintings, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1967, cat. no.248, illustrated p.174;
David Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill's Life Through His Paintings, Chaucer Press, London, 2003, cat. no.248, illustrated p.215;
David Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill, His Life and His Paintings, Ware House Publishing, Lyme Regis, 2011, cat. no.248, illustrated p.215.


The canvas is original. The canvas undulates slightly in places, notably in the upper corners. There are scattered instances of loss and instability along the lower edge. There is a vertical line of cracking in the upper right corner and two small dents to the left of this line of cracking, with tiny associated flecks of loss. There are some fine lines of cracking running along the right hand edge, possibly in keeping with a previous stretcher, and associated scattered instances of loss. There are some scattered fine lines of craquelure throughout. There is surface dirt and studio matter throughout and traces of a discoloured varnish. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals some historic fine lines of retouching along the right edge, in line with the cracking mentioned above. There is also some retouching in the lower left quadrant associated with the loss mentioned above. The work is held within a carved and moulded gilt wood frame. Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

'I must say I like bright colours...I rejoice with brilliant ones, and am genuinely sorry for the poor brown ones.' (Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime, first published in The Strand Magazine in 1921-22, quoted in David Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill, His Life and His Paintings, Ware House Publishing, Lyme Regis, 2011, p.86) We are grateful to David Coombs for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work. 

The Calanques are a series of rocky inlets that characterise the coastline near Marseilles in the south of France, an area with warm Mediterranean light that greatly appealed to Churchill's painterly instincts, and drew him back again and again. Churchill's ventures to the south of France were welcome breaks, providing the perfect respite from the pressures of political life. This sense of freedom is evoked in Calanques, Near Marseilles through Churchill's vibrant depiction of the scene, rendered with energetic and confident brushwork. He captures the heat, tranquillity and languor, so different from the rush and rain of London: here cliffs are bathed in warm sunlight, gentle waves wash up along the shore, and a bobbing boat is moored to the coastline.  

Churchill adopted an especially interesting viewpoint in the present work, which emphasises the glistening reflection and refraction of light across the warm Mediterranean water. The fluid impasto and scintillating colour combinations that highlight the rhythmic movement of the sea reverberate across the picture plane, demonstrating the influence of the Impressionists and the lessons Churchill had learnt from what he called: 'the modern French School... [the] disciples of Cézanne. [These artists] view Nature as a mass of shimmering light in which forms and surfaces are comparatively unimportant, indeed hardly visible, but which [gleam] and [glow] with beautiful harmonies and contrasts of colour' (David Coombs and Minnie Churchill, Sir Winston Churchill's Life Through His Paintings, Chaucer Press, London, 2003, p.71).

According to Clementine Churchill, Winston had never visited an art gallery prior to taking up painting, but in 1915 he met and befriended Carl Montag in Paris. Montag was a landscape painter of Swiss origin who was a friend of Monet, Degas, Pissarro and Renoir, and took Churchill around the galleries of Paris. Later in January 1921 the pair decided to test the appeal of Churchill's paintings on French clients and organised an exhibition under the pseudonym Charles Morin at the Galerie Druet in Paris, a gallery specialising in Post-Impressionist paintings. The paintings of the Impressionists had a profound impact, and a bold palette was to be a staple of Churchill's work from then onwards. In the present work, the confidently impastoed brushstrokes spring to life across the paint surface and demonstrate a confidence with both colour and paint that reveal the artist’s raw talent as well as his ability to incorporate lessons and developments from art history.