‘I hope this is modest enough: because there is no subject on which I feel more humble or yet at the same time more natural. I do not presume to explain how to paint, but only how to get enjoyment. Do not turn the superior eye of critical passivity upon these efforts. Buy a paint-box and have a try. If you need something to occupy your leisure, to divert your mind from your daily round, to illuminate your holidays, do not be too ready to believe that you cannot find what you want here.’ (Sir Winston Churchill, Hon. R.A., Painting as a Pastime, The Strand Magazine, 1921/2, copyright, Churchill Heritage Ltd)
Winston Churchill first took up a brush in 1915, while he and his family were enjoying a much needed retreat from London in the Surrey countryside. It was the summer after the so-called Dardanelles disaster, and Churchill was in the midst of a deep depression, feeling that at the age of 40 his political career was all but over. It was during this visit that he noticed his sister-in-law Gwendoline painting the gardens in watercolour and she encouraged him to take up a brush. While Churchill did not take to the watercolour medium, he was intrigued by the process and oils and brushes were immediately dispatched for. The serendipitous arrival of Hazel Lavery, the wife of the painter John Lavery and an artist herself, encouraged Churchill in his endeavours and he embarked upon what would become a lifelong passion.
Churchill quickly became devoted to his new pastime, taking his paints and brushes with him on holiday, to visits with friends and setting up in his garden at home whenever there was a spare moment. For Churchill, painting required a set of precise yet intuitive skills that exercised a totally different part of his mind from that used for the cut and thrust of national politics. It was the challenge and difficulty of capturing satisfactorily the scene before him that proved such a tonic to his mind.
From the outset Churchill sought to learn as much as possible about painting technique to improve his burgeoning skills. He benefitted from knowing some of the greatest artists of the day, including, as mentioned previously, the great portraitist Sir John Lavery, but also Walter Richard Sickert and William Nicholson, who bestowed upon Churchill a great deal of wisdom and advice. Churchill also sought to study from those artists he admired, travelling to Paris with the artist Charles Montag to see the French Impressionists, and also copying the works of the great masters in order to apply their techniques. He would borrow paintings from friends such as Sir Philip Sassoon for such purposes and After Daubigny is a copy of a landscape entitled The Ferry by the French artist Charles- Francois Daubigny, which was owned by the Duke of Marlborough, Churchill’s cousin. The present work was painted in 1915 and is a rare early example of Churchill’s burgeoning passion for painting. He was clearly drawn to The Ferry, perhaps fascinated by Daubigny’s depiction of the water, the effect of light on water being a feature of so many of Churchill’s best paintings in the years to come, and he painted two further versions of the composition in same year.
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