January 9, 2017

Portrait of Churchill Signed by the Subject
Displayed at National Football Museum


One of only two portraits of himself that Winston Churchill ever signed has gone on public display for the first time. It was painted by artist Paul Trevillion in 1955. Born in 1934, Paul was a schoolboy during the Second World War. He told MHM, “My school desk faced a large poster hanging on the school wall; it had the face of Churchill and the words “LET US GO FORWARD TOGETHER”

“Our schoolteacher, Miss Stevens, each Monday morning would stand beside the poster and spell out the same message: ‘Remember children, you are all soldiers without uniforms. When the air-raid siren sounds, you must stand to attention and then, in an orderly fashion, march to the air-raid shelter in the playground. The front row will lead off followed by the second row, and so on.’ This order of marching to the shelter rotated with each air-raid warning.

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“Even through the bombing, I slept well at nights thinking of the reassuring smiling face of Churchill, which I had seen so many times in newspapers and newsreels. When the war ended in 1945, little did I realise that ten years later I was to meet Sir Winston Churchill.”

On Churchill’s 80th birthday, in 1954, renowned artist Graham Sutherland painted a full-length portrait of the Prime Minister that Churchill famously hated and never put on display. Sutherland’s portrait is said to have been destroyed by Lady Clementine. [It was.—ed.]

One year later, Paul decided to present Churchill with a more flattering likeness, painted to portray the Churchill the artist had found comfort in during the war. In the Trevillion portrait, the Prime Minister is smiling, eyes full of playful self-assurance.

Paul’s portrait was delivered to Churchill via Bernard Sunley, a friend of Churchill’s and a client of designer and architect Lazslo Hoenig, for whom Paul was working as a designer.

“Imagine my surprise when, a week later, sitting working in Hoenig’s studio, I was told that Sir Winston Churchill was on the phone,” said Paul.

“‘Hello,’ Churchill said, in his deep voice. ‘Is that Trevillion?’ I said, ‘Yes.’

“He said, ‘Winston here. I will be at the Bernard Sunley Buildings, Berkeley Square, on Wednesday, 10.30. Oblige.’

“I did, and when I walked into the boardroom of the Sunley Buildings to meet Sir Winston Churchill, I found him seated facing the door. He never got up. As I shook his hand, he smiled and said, ‘When were you born?’ I said, ‘1934.’

“‘So you were five when war was declared? Were you evacuated?’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t get evacuated.’ Churchill nodded. ‘And where were you living?’

“‘London,’ I replied. Churchill smiled, ‘So, you are a boy from the Blitz!’

“Churchill picked up my portrait, and I said, ‘I tried to capture the confident smile that reassured me as a little boy that we would win the war.’ Still smiling, Churchill said, ‘I like this painting very much.’

“And I heard myself saying, ‘It would be nice to have that in writing!’

“‘I will do more,’ replied Churchill. ‘I will sign it.’”

The signed portrait of Churchill is on display at the National Football Museum, Manchester.

This article originally appeared in Military History Monthly and is re-printed with kind permission. The only other portrait of Churchill that he signed himself is “Winston Churchill at His Easel Painting the Mill at Dreux” by Paul Maze and is part of the permanent collection at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri.

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