Churchill loved to travel and throughout his busy life always found time to holiday abroad. Of course his paints, brushes and easels accompanied him wherever he went. In particular, he was drawn to the warm climate of the South of France where he found the landscape especially inspiring. This love affair with the Riviera began in 1922 when Churchill and Clementine (who had spent much of her childhood in Dieppe) moved their family to Villa Reve d’Or for six months. They considered buying in the area, but the expense eventually put them off. Churchill would continue to visit France especially during the 1930s, when he was working on the biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. He was fortunate to have numerous friends who had villas on the Riviera where he would reside during his sojourns. A favourite location was La Dragonnière, at Cap Martin, owned by Harold Harmsworth, later Viscount Rothermere and proprietor of the Daily Mail.
This friendship with one of Britain’s pre-eminent newspaper dynasties was longstanding. Early in Churchill’s career, Rothermere’s older brother, the then owner, supported Churchill vocally in his papers and became a vital ally politically but the two men would later fall out over the ill-fated Gallipoli landings. However, Churchill remained friendly with Rothermere who took control of the business in 1922. Rothermere would employ Churchill to write columns for the Mail when Churchill was in need of money, and indeed when Churchill lost a pet swan in 1932, the paper ran an appeal for its safe return. Rothermere was often concerned for Churchill’s health and famously offered him hefty wagers to reduce his drinking. Politically Rothermere also supported Churchill and through the 1930s, sharing Churchill’s concern that the RAF was in urgent need of rearmament and publicising Churchill’s this through the Mail.
It is likely that this work was painted in February 1937, when despite Clementine tempting him to join her in St Moritz (she had recently taken up skiing) Churchill opted for the warmth and sunshine of the French Riviera and went to stay with Rothermere at La Dragonnière. Here Churchill spent a restful fortnight delighting in the garden at La Dragonnière where he set up his easel and painted a series of works. He was particularly interested in the effects of light and shadow in his work and in this beautiful and carefully crafted composition, Churchill captures the strength of the Mediterranean sun as it streaks through the leaves casting long shadows from the gnarled and twisting forms of the ancient olive trees that scatter the grove. Churchill has chosen a low perspective, placing the viewer at ground level so we too peer through the stunted and contorted forms towards the orange and cream hues of the Mediterranean houses in the distance leading up the hill.
This work was previously in Clementine's personal collection and has not been seen in public since it was bought by the present owner’s father in the 1960s.
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