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Churchill’s Favourite Portrait on Loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir William Orpen’s 1916 portrait on long-term loan by the Churchill family for public viewing. 

William-Orpen-Churchill-PortraitWinston S. Churchill, 1916In 1916, at one of the greatest moments of despair in Churchill’s life, an official war artist was painting his portrait. He commented when he saw the canvas, “It is not the picture of a man. It is the picture of a man’s soul.”

At age 41 Churchill suffered one of the greatest political setbacks of his life.

After the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli, 1915-16, fought in the Dardanelles Straits and the Gallipoli peninsula, he resigned his office in the Asquith government, having taken the blame for the terrible tragedy and loss of life during the catastrophic campaign.

It is during this lowest time of Churchill’s career, as the Dardanelles Commission was convened to investigate, that this revealing portrait was painted.

Though the commission on the matter did not find him personally at fault, he was forced to resign his cherished post of First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Irish artist Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen (1878-1931), having been recommended by John Singer Sergeant, became an official British war artist during the time of the First World War.

Churchill sat for Orpen eleven times for what was to be Churchill’s favorite, and perhaps most illuminating, portrait of himself.

At the time the artist was painting, Churchill was in the midst of planning to defend himself to the Dardanelles Commission. They eventually determined that he was not personally liable, but the damage was done to his political career.

The Churchill family, through the Churchill Chattels Trust has loaned the striking, life-sized portrait to The National Portrait Gallery, London.


“It is not the picture of a man. It is the picture of a man’s soul.”


The rarely seen portrait will be on display for public viewing from 1 November 2012 and will remain on long term loan by agreement with the estate of the late Winston S. Churchill (grandson of Sir Winston). Other than a brief loan in 2005 to the Imperial War Museum, the 58″x40″ canvas has remained solely within the Churchill family.

The portrait previously hung in the home of Sir Winston’s grandson.

Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne, commented, “I am very pleased that the Churchill family has agreed that this outstanding portrait by William Orpen of Winston Churchill, the nation’s greatest 20th century statesman, should now be on public display.”

The portrait is on display in Room 30 of the Gallery’s early 20th-century room, illustrating Churchill’s significance in the context of the First World War.

See the National Portrait Gallery, London’s website for more information.

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