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 Winston Spencer Churchill  (1874 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/England      Known for: landscape, waterscape, figure, genre and still life painting, political leader

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THE GOLDFISH POOL AT CHARTWELL
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Churchill as Artist      

Half Passion, Half Philosophy

By Ron Cynewulf Robbins

Churchill was forty before he discovered the pleasures of painting. The compositional challenge of depicting a landscape gave the heroic rebel in him temporary repose. He possessed the heightened perception of the genuine artist to whom no scene is commonplace. Over a period of forty-eight years his creativity yielded more than 500 pictures. His art quickly became half passion, half philosophy.  He enjoyed holding forth in speech and print on the aesthetic rewards for amateur devotees. To him it was the greatest of hobbies. He had found his other world—a respite from crowding events and pulsating politics.

His initiation was simplistic. As he put it: "...experiments with a child’s paint-box led me the next morning to produce a complete outfit in oils." Unfamiliarity with technique could not lessen his determination; discipline—and lessons—would have to wait. Yet a sense of awe seemed to impose restraint.  The novitiate was caught by the wife of Sir John Lavery (distinguished leader of the Glasgow school of painting) tentatively handling a small brush." Painting!" she exclaimed. "But what are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush—the big one." She showed him that a brush was a weapon to subdue a blank, intimidating canvas by firing paint at it to dazzling effect. Never again did he feel the slightest inhibition.

Characteristically, Churchill’s first word of advice to budding artists was "audacity." He was a strong proponent of oils. Without intending any insult, he put "la peinture ‘a l’eau" in second place.

The erratic pendulum of politics afforded him the opportunity to verify that the attraction of painting was no mere infatuation. He was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911 at the age of thirty-six and insisted that the Royal Navy shake off the shackles of the 19th century. Larger ships must abandon coal and run on oil; here was his answer to the growing threat from Germany. The First World War saw his political career in jeopardy with the 1915 failure of the Dardanelles expedition for which he was blamed. Relegated to the minor position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he soon resigned to join the army as a colonel. Awaiting embarkation for France, he had time to succumb to the lure of brush and palette. By 1917, he was back in office with the portfolio of Minister of Munitions. His masterly advocacy of the tank to counter the menace of the German machine-gun broke the trench warfare deadlock, and the tank proved historically invaluable during the vital combat at Cambrai.

Encouragement to persevere with his hobby stemmed from an amateur prize (his first) which he won for Winter Sunshine, Chartwell, a bright reflection of his Kentish home.  He sent five paintings to be exhibited in Paris in the 1920s.  Four were sold for £30 each.  Making money, it has been well established, was not the incentive, then or ever. Sheer delight accounted for Churchill’s devotion.  For the Paris test of his ability he hid his identity under an assumed name: Charles Morin.

Why the disguise? Imperceptive critics attribute it to nervous ego on the part of a statesman to the fore in oratory, soldiery, and literature. The decisive factor is that Churchill’s painting animated him to the point of exaltation and threw open for us another door to the treasure house of his genius. Eager flaw-finders would like us to believe use of a pseudonym was unworthy. In fact, it proves that his ego was not overblown to the extent of excluding a winning modesty, which often surfaced in the course of his astonishing life. Writing for the New York Times Magazine to mark

The centenary of Churchill’s birth, the British historian A. J. P. Taylor described how, in old age, Churchill pronounced a verdict on his career: "He remarked that the final verdict of history would take account not only of the victories achieved under his direction, but also of the political results which flowed from them and he added: ‘Judged by this standard, I am not sure that I shall be held to have done very well.’ Churchill did himself an injustice. The results were not his doing; the victories were.  The results were foreshadowed when the British people resolved on war with Hitler."

Modesty shone through that self-estimate.  Modesty—and warm sympathy—were undeniably evident in what Churchill told a fellow painter, Sergeant Edmund Murray, his bodyguard from 1950 to 1965.  Murray had been in the Foreign Legion and the London Metropolitan Police. Interviewing him to gauge his suitability, Churchill said: "You have had a most interesting life. And I hear you even paint in oils." After Murray had his work rejected by the Royal Academy, Churchill told him: "You know, your paintings are so much better than mine, but yours are judged on their merit."

Sergeant Murray was at Churchill’s elbow on many painting outings. He carried the gear and took the photographs Churchill needed for reference indoors.  He would voice hints about just where he thought an extra touch would bring improvement.  Churchill, absorbed and happy, usually kept on wielding his brush. Sometimes, however, he asked for an opinion. Murray boasted that now and then his advice was taken.

The wealth of organization displayed by an artist’s canvas is rightly considered essential to the proper assessment of virtuosity. Equally pertinent is the assertion that definitive artistic value lies wholly in the workmanship. Churchill’s progressive workmanship demonstrates that a pseudonym employed at a crucial stage shrewdly enabled him to find out where he stood before moving on to fine-tool his talent.

Churchill again favoured a pseudonym (Mr. Winter) in 1947 when offering works to the Royal Academy, so his fame in other spheres was not exploited.  Two pictures were accepted and eventually the title of Honorary Academician Extraordinary was conferred on him.  He earned it. That is borne out by the conclusion of the renowned painter Sir Oswald Birley: "If Churchill had given the time to art that he has given to politics, he would have been by all odds the world’s greatest painter." Connoisseurs of Sir Winston’s art stoutly defend their individual preference, but there are convincing arguments for bestowing highest praise on "The Blue Sitting Room, Trent Park" which was sold in 1949 to aid charity.

A winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Churchill was conscious of the abiding unity of poetry, painting and sculpture—"sister arts." His rise from gifted amateur to academician was no easy flight but, with twinkling mischief which charmed even his enemies, he could be dismissive of his painting skills.

Occasionally he invited a parliamentary journalist to lunch.  This provided him with a sounding board and served as a nostalgic reminder of his journalistic days. In April 1946 William Barkley was his choice.  A penetrating thinker whose columns were the envy of his Fleet Street colleagues, Barkley once wrote: "...for eyes, Churchill has lakes of cerulean blue." He meticulously related their table talk.

Asked if he intended to hold an exhibition of his paintings, Churchill derided the idea: "They are not worth it.  They are only of interest in having been painted [this with a guffaw] by a notorious character! If Crippen had painted pictures no doubt the public would flock to see them." He was disdainful of proposals that he retire: "A great many people who want to retire me now were never very eager to advance me." By 1951, of course, he was Prime Minister once more, compensated for the crushing electoral defeat of the Conservatives in 1945.

Despite outward flippancy, Churchill had a true craftsman’s dedication when he took up a paint brush. He consulted teachers admired for their professionalism.  He was fond of citing Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing and readily accepted Sir William Orpen’s suggestion that he should visit Avignon, where the light can verge on a miracle.  He recalled an encounter on the C6te d’Azur with artists who worshipped at the throne of Cezanne and gratefully acknowledged the inspiration he derived from their exchange. Marrakech, Morocco—irresistible and productive—always brought out the best in him.

Churchill sought and found tranquility in his art.  His much quoted words, summing up expectations of celestial bliss, retain their lustre: "When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject..."


Sources:

Twin enchantments: Churchill's Painting as a Pastime and final essay in Amid These Storms (published as Thoughts and Adventures in England, published in volume form, London and New York. 1948)

Churchill: His Life As a Painter. a study by his daughter Mary Soames, published in 1990.

David Coombs’s Churchill: His Paintings (1967) is an indispensable catalogue.

Sergeant Murray’s autobiography, I Was Churchill’s Bodyguard (1987) is robust and frank.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Winston Churchill, a British politician and statesman, was known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War when he served as Prime Minister of England, 1940 -1945.  He was also an accomplished artist and took great pleasure in painting, especially after his resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915.

He found a haven in art to overcome the spells of depression, or as he termed it, the "Black Dog", which he suffered throughout his life.  As William Rees-Mogg has stated, "In his own life, he had to suffer the 'black dog' of depression.  In his landscapes and still lives there is no sign of depression".

Churchills' daughter, Mary Soames wrote in her biography of her mother, Clementine, that her father, in 1914 when forced into political inactivity, had time on his hands. Staying at Hoe Farm in a small country house with his family, he saw his sister-in-law sketching with watercolors, and for the first time, he took up the pursuit.  His wife, wanting to encourage him and not knowing that turpentine was needed for oil painting, bought him "every variety of oil paints available" but, without turpentine, 'disaster' ensued.  However, their artist friend and London Cromwell Place neighbor John Lavery, responding to a call from Clementine, came to the rescue. It is written that Lavery was "so overjoyed to hear of Winston's new ploy that he leaped into a hired car and drove immediately to Hoe Farm, bringing not only turpentine, but all his knowledge and skill." His wife, Hazel, was also an artist and between her and her husband, "they gave Winston the first lessons in painting, an occupation of which he never was to tire." (165) 


Churchill was also encouraged and taught to paint by his French artist friend, Paul Maze, whom he met on the western front during the First World War.  During the 1930s Maze was a great influence on Churchill’s painting and became a lifelong painting companion.  Others who painted with Churchill were Walter Sickert, and William Nicholson, whom Clementine credited with "a softening and lightening effect" on Winston's palette. (Soames, 300)

Churchill is best known for his impressionist scenes of landscape, many of which were painted while on holiday in the South of France, Egypt or Morocco.  He continued his hobby throughout his life and painted hundreds of paintings, many of which are shown in the studio at Chartwell as well as private collections.  Some of his paintings can today be seen in the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art.  Emery Reves and Winston Churchill indeed were close friends, and Churchill would often visit Emery and his wife in their villa in the South of France (villa La Pausa, originally built in 1927 for Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel).  The villa was rebuilt within the museum in 1985 with a gallery of paintings and memorabilia from Sir Winston Churchill.  Most of his paintings are oil-based and feature landscapes, but he also did a number of interior scenes and portraits.

Due to obvious time constraints, Churchill attempted only one painting during the Second World War.  He completed the painting from the tower of the Villa Taylor in Marrakesh.

Despite his lifelong fame and upper-class origins, Churchill always struggled to keep his income at a level that would fund his extravagant lifestyle. MPs before 1946 received only a nominal salary (and in fact did not receive anything at all until the Parliament Act 1911) so many had secondary professions from which to earn a living.  From his first book in 1898 until his second stint as Prime Minister, Churchill's income was almost entirely made from writing books and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines.  The most famous of his newspaper articles are those that appeared in the Evening Standard from 1936 warning of the rise of Hitler and the danger of the policy of appeasement.

Churchill was also a prolific writer of books, writing a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs, and several histories in addition to his many newspaper articles.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values". Two of his most famous works, published after his first premiership brought his international fame to new heights, were his six-volume memoir The Second World War and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples; a four-volume history covering the period from Caesar's invasions of Britain (55 BC) to the beginning of the First World War (1914).


Sources:
Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winston_Churchill#Churchill_as_artist.2C_historian.2C_and_writer

Mary Soames, Clementine


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Text from Amazon.com pertaining to the book Sir Winston Churchill: His Life and His Paintings by David Coombs and Minnie S. Churchill, published 2004:

Book Description
Release Date: September 28, 2004
Sir Winston Churchill began painting during World War II, and it became his lifelong passion. His works, which number over 500, are of remarkable quality and have received the most positive criticism in the English press. "Had he signed his pictures 'Jones,' the critic would still find himself pausing in front of them," noted one Sunday Times of London art critic in 1949. Another opined that "At least a dozen of these pictures will stand against any of the best impressionists." This exclusive, comprehensive collection of the paintings of one of the greatest statesmen in history is licensed by the Churchill Heritage, which will provide marketing support. Written by the renowned art critic who catalogued all of Churchill's paintings shortly after his death, along with Sir Winston's granddaughter-in-law, this sumptuous art book collects all of the images painted by Churchill, primarily in oil on canvas, and in essence provides a look at his life story through his paintings. It also includes authoritative text by the authors, Sir Winston's complete 1925 essay "Painting as a Pastime," and 40 rare, previously unpublished photographs of Churchill and his world, in both color and black and white.

Editorial Reviews: From Publishers Weekly
After Churchill was forced to resign from the WWI British government in 1915 at the age of 40, he took up oils and dived almost completely into painting. Sir Winston certainly didn’t experiment much beyond shifting subject matters, but the "painting muse" that supposedly carried him out of his retirement depression seems to have been an overwhelming, transcendent influence on his later years. Published with the full cooperation of Churchill’s family, this impressive 9" x 12" book offers a large-scale retrospective of the grand statesman’s paintings. Its 500 full-color and black and white reproductions and photos are displayed smoothly throughout the glossy pages and described by precisely detailed captions.

Coombs, former editor of The Antique Collector and a lifetime fellow at the Royal Society of Arts, provides historical background and political context for the sometimes-vivid oil paintings. Culled from Churchill’s first days of painting at his Sulley farmhouse (and holidays in Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, the French Riviera and the United States), the paintings reflect a sincere interest in the meditative process of art-making, and are reminiscent of Monet, Cézanne and, when Churchill is at his best, perhaps Bonnard. Most are impressionistic landscapes or floral still lifes, along with the occasional portrait, such as one done in 1955 of Sir Winston’s wife, Clementine Churchill, and others of various secretaries or political colleagues. The enthusiastic foreword is written by Churchill’s only surviving child, Mary Soames. Two of Churchill’s essays seek to explain the impetus behind the political giant’s second life. As he put it: "We may content ourselves with a joy-ride in a paint-box."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
"Damn good," said art critic Harry S Truman of a 1958 exhibition of Winston Churchill's paintings, and viewers can declaim as they wish on Churchill's artistic skill, thanks to this comprehensive album of his output. Churchill himself was modest and made no pretense to excellence, regarding his hobby as just that, a serene distraction from the pressures of political life. The authors have reprinted Churchill's 1921 article "Painting as a Pastime," in which Churchill extolled amateur painting as a physical activity ("Just to paint is great fun") as much as for its aesthetic satisfaction. He picked up brush and palette in 1915, and his first efforts were indeed no great shakes--though of biographical interest as they depicted his post on the Western Front. But he worked to improve his technique until he could turn out an accomplished landscape, although the human form often eluded him. A chronology and captions explain the paintings' locales, and photographs show Churchill at the easel in this sunny, colorful treasure for the Churchillian set. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Source:
www.amazon.com


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