We are grateful to David Coombs for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
'The arrival of your lovely picture was the greatest excitement. I wish I could tell you how truly thrilled I am to have it and how wonderfully kind I think it is of you to have had it so beautifully framed.'
Vivien Leigh, letter to Sir Winston Churchill, 21st September 1951, The Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, CHUR 2/174.
'I should like to show you where the painting you gave me hangs. It is in my bedroom dear Sir Winston and I look at it every day as I wake and every night as I go to sleep...'
Vivien Leigh, letter to Sir Winston Churchill, 14th February 1961, The Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, CHUR 2/527A.
‘I’ve always loved pictures, and I think one of the most wonderful, marvellous experiences of my whole life was when Sir Winston allowed me to see his. I’d been lunching with him at Chartwell, and after lunch – I remember it was a lovely, sunny day – we were walking around the garden and we came to a garden house with, I suppose, four or five rooms in it. And in each one the walls were simply covered in his own paintings. I was astonished and fascinated by the number and variety of them. But as I was passing one particular one of them, I said, “Oh, Sir, that is beautiful.” And to my absolute bewilderment he said, “Would you like it?” So, actually I practically fainted, I didn’t know what to say. I believe I gave him the understanding that I would be more thrilled and honoured than I can possibly say if I could have it. So he said he would send it to me for Christmas. However, two weeks later, a marvellous package arrived, and there it was with a letter, which of course I shall keep all my life, saying, “I couldn’t wait until Christmas.”’
Vivien Leigh, 1960, quoted in Winston Churchill, The Valiant Years, Episode 26, directed by Anthony Bushell and John Schlesinger, ABC Productions, 1960.
Vivien was delighted and inspired to be shown around Sir Winston Churchill’s magnificent gardens that he had created at Chartwell and even more so to see his studio and the myriad of paintings hanging one on top of the other. Study of Roses belongs to an important body of work painted at Chartwell during the 1930s. In contrast to the larger scale landscape subjects that make up the great majority of his oeuvre, Churchill’s still lifes are undoubtedly more intimate and focus on the beautiful flowers he had lovingly planted surrounding the house. Winston first visited Chartwell in 1921 and was mesmerized by its glorious setting overlooking the Weald of Kent. Acquiring the plot in 1922, he entirely remodelled the house and grounds, designing much of the gardens and water features himself and was often outdoors, wearing one of his famous boiler suits, tending to the garden, laying the network of brick-walls that traverse the property and seated painting in front of his easel. Chartwell was transformed into a much-loved family home where he lived until his death in 1965.
Frequently driven indoors by the inclement British weather, Winston drew inspiration from the abundance of flowers surrounding the house - nasturtiums, tulips, daffodils and, in the present work, roses - which were cleverly united with interesting objects. Churchill would send members of his family around the house to compose each ‘paintatious’ group (Mary Soames, Winston Churchill, His Life as a Painter, London, 1990, p. 105). Clementine always wanted fresh blooms in each room, not only for the family’s enjoyment, but also for the many visitors who passed through the doors, including major luminaries of the day such as Charlie Chaplin, T.E. Lawrence, Albert Einstein and, of course, the Oliviers.
The greatest influence on his approach to painting still life was his close friend, the artist Sir William Nicholson, who was undoubtedly one of most accomplished artists of his generation. Originally commissioned by friends of Churchill to paint a conversation piece of Winston and Clementine for their silver wedding anniversary, Nicholson started coming to Chartwell in 1933 and became a firm favourite especially amongst the children: ‘He would fill a piece of paper with oval to round shapes – tier upon tier of them – to present a football crowd, and then we would all take turns at filling in the features and expressions’ (Mary Soames, ibid., p. 85). Often painting side by side, Churchill was inspired by Nicholson’s subtle palette and his talent for arranging intriguing compositions drawing together interesting and contrasting objects. In the present work, he expertly captures the variance in texture between the glistening translucent glass vase, the rich green hues of draped fabric in the background, and the vivid petals which burst forth from the vase in the centre.
Study of Roses was duly framed and sent to Vivien shortly after her visit to Chartwell in August 1951. It hung in her bedroom for the rest of her life: ‘Whenever I feel particularly low or depressed I look at those three rosebuds. The thought and the friendship in the painting is such a great encouragement to me…and I have the determination to go on’ (Vivien Leigh, quoted in David Lewin, ‘Vivien Tells’, The Daily Express, 16th August 1960, p. 8).
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