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Rotterdam’s Striking Churchill Bust

Terracota Maquette from Artist’s Estate Now for Sale

Verbon Churchill bust“It is magnificent, but you credited me with more character than I think I’ve got.”—Winston Churchill to Willem Verbon in response to viewing the bust at 10 Downing Street, 1954

This remarkable likeness of Sir Winston Churchill was created from life in 1953 at the behest of the city of Rotterdam. Sculpted by Willem Verbon (1921-2003), the finished bronze stands in the Dutch city to this day, a compelling reminder of the reverence bestowed upon Churchill in the Netherlands. This deeply expressive work in terracotta represents the original maquette for the sculpture, which survived in the artist’s studio until it was sold in 2003, and is now offered for sale by Philip Mould OBE, an expert in British portraiture.

There are few sculptures of Churchill taken from life, a curious fact given his fame. Churchill’s importance to Rotterdam was confirmed in 1946 when he was granted honorary membership of the town council, which this bust was created to commemorate. Already held in high regard as a civic sculptor, Verbon received the commission to create this monumental portrait.

Verbon sought to remain loyal to the truth by portraying his subjects as he put it “neither prettier nor uglier” than the reality. It was an approach that suited the subject: Verbon’s Churchill resonates with both the subject’s greatness and aging humanity, ranking it amongst the most successful portraits taken of the statesman. He is swathed in the same robes and regalia that he wore when “he strode, the old soldier behind the young queen” at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. His uniform of the Admiral of the Cinque Ports is just visible beneath the robes of a Knight of the Most Ancient Order of Garter, with the “Great George” chain (lent to him by the Victoria & Albert Museum) draped around his neck.

According to the artist’s biographer, Verbon imitated Churchill’s gruff voice magnificently recalling the Prime Minister saying “I think I belong to a kennel now, but must I say, a very distinguished kennel” when receiving his honorary medal of membership form the Rotterdam council in 1946. In the letters exchanged between Churchill’s secretary Anthony Montague Browne and the Dutch Embassy, Churchill compliments the artist on “the remarkable result” achieved for which he was “indeed obliged for the trouble” he had taken.

Verbon throughout was punctilious about his artistic requirements, using the services of those close to Churchill to assist with the logistics. At his request, he was given special access to the chamber of the House of Commons in order to observe and sketch Churchill first hand. Following a viewing of the bust at Downing Street, Churchill sent Verbon a signed copy of his book Painting as a Pastime, believing it to be a more meaningful gift for a friend and fellow artist than his customary signed photograph.

The bust is 25 ins. (63.5cm) high and has a 14 ½ in. (37 cm) protrusion. It is signed “Verbon” behind the right shoulder. It is offered together with a gilt-tooled, leather copy of Painting as a Pastime by W. S. Churchill, inscribed in the frontispiece “To Wilhelm Verbon from Winston Churchill 1954,” as well as a copy of the biography of Verbon (1986) by Joris Boddaert, a photograph signed “Winston S. Churchill,” and a copy of another photograph of Churchill in the coronation robes with a copied signature mounted in an easel silvered frame.

The seller, Philip Mould, is the presenter with Fiona Bruce of the BBC series Fake or Fortune? He works closely with private collectors and institutions to build their art collections and has agreed to make a generous donation to The Churchill Centre UK from the sale of the bust.

Inquiries, referencing The Churchill Centre, should be directed to:

Michale Kelion
9 Little Portland Street
London W1W 7JF
Tel: 020 7436 4316
Mobile: 07973 116 649

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