Churchill and his wife had a lifelong fascination with France: Clementine spent many years of her childhood in Dieppe and they both had several friends who lived across the country and whom they would regularly visit. The south of France in particular had an immense appeal to Churchill, who was attracted not only by the warm weather, beautiful landscapes and sparkling colours of the Mediterranean, but also to the ancient history of the land.
In 1920 he made the first of many painting trips to the South of France accompanied by Sir John Lavery, one his most important artistic mentors, and the French Riviera quickly became one of Churchill’s favourite painting locations. Such was the appeal, that in 1922 Churchill and his family moved to the Riviera, renting the villa Rêve d’Or for six months. This love affair with the south of France was to continue for the rest of his life and Churchill was lucky enough to be able to stay in many spectacular villas along the coast including villa La Capponcina on the coast of the Cap d’Ail, near Monte Carlo which is depicted in this work.
This idyllic villa was owned by Churchill’s long-time political friend, Lord Beaverbrook, who was most renowned for building the Daily Express into the most successful mass circulation newspaper of its time. Churchill and Beaverbrook’s friendship was a tumultuous one, often resulting in major disagreements when engaging in political discussions, but it was certainly one of mutual respect that continued until the end of their lives. During the Second World War Churchill persuaded Beaverbrook to serve as Minister of Aircraft Production and later as Lord Privy Seal. Churchill would regularly visit La Capponcina, considering it a particularly relaxing retreat: he and Clementine celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary there in September 1958 and in the later 1960s when Churchill’s base was Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, he took to visiting the garden in the afternoons, painting or just sitting in the sun. Mary Soames described the villa as ‘an oasis of privacy … with lovely views’ (Mary Soames quoted in David Coombs and Minnie Churchill, 2011, op. cit., p.235) and several of Churchill’s compositions centre around the house, terraced gardens and views across the Mediterranean (see David Coombs and Minnie Churchill, 2011, op. cit., pp.234-237).
As with so many of his works, a sense of quiet and privacy pervades this scene. Churchill has chosen a discrete corner of the garden, capturing the movement of light and shadows across the walls as the afternoon draws to a close. The terracotta and sun-burnt stone of the buildings are set in contrast to the lush vegetation of the over-hanging trees, pots brimming over with plants and the lush grass of the lawn in this little courtyard. The viewer is drawn into the painting, the steps focusing our gaze on the narrow archway, leading to the rambling grounds of the villa beyond. The painting, bustling with architectural angles and evocative Mediterrean colours, encapsulates a small corner of a paradise that meant so much to Churchill.
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