Writing in his famous essay Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill said of his favorite hobby: “I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.”
There have been several good books that gather together examples of Churchill’s paintings. This is the first book, however, that gathers together all of Churchill’s speeches and writings about painting. It is worth reading.
Sir David Cannadine writes and speaks frequently about Churchill. As a professional historian, his resume is unsurpassed. So it is notable that he does not underestimate the importance of painting in Churchill’s life. He has never been alone. Included in this book are essays by six people from the professional art world during Churchill’s time showing their appreciation for the statesman’s passion.
Annie Gray is a historian specialising in British food and dining c.1650–1950. Her biography of Georgina Landemare, Victory in the Kitchen: The Story of Churchill’s Cook, is due out in spring 2020.
Long-time Finest Hour readers will be familiar with the name Georgina Landemare. She was, along with Grace Hamblin and Victor Vincent (the Chartwell gardener), one of the longest-serving of the Churchills’ paid retinue, with them on and off (mainly on) for twenty-two years. She catered networking parties during Churchill’s Wilderness Years, policy-making gatherings when he was Prime Minister during the War, and family get-togethers during his bitter postwar years in opposition. Mrs. Landemare tends to have only a walk-on role in the many books about the Churchills, however—a surprising omission, given the important role she played in the smooth running of the family home.
Georgina’s early life was entirely average. She was born into what was categorised at the time as the “affluent working class,” meaning working class people with jobs and steady wages. Her father was a coachman, her mother a maid. They were from Hertfordshire, and Georgina was born at her maternal grandmother’s house in Aldbury, near Tring. Today it is a commuter village for London, but it remains a chocolate-box style picture of English countryside sweetness. When I visited there last winter, it was snowing, and I hid in the firelit warmth of the local pub—at one time run by relatives of Georgina’s mother—trying to visualise it as it was in 1882 when Georgina was born: a struggling rural outpost ruled by a handful of local gentry families. She never lived there, however, moving at a young age with her family to London. She started work at thirteen, and then, aged fifteen, became a scullery maid in a house in Kensington Palace Gardens. Looking back, she described it as “starting her track of life,” even then determined that service would be a career and not merely a job.
Churchill feeding the swans at Chartwell credit: Alamy.com
Finest Hour 183, First Quarter 2019
By Piers Brendon
Piers Brendon is former Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre and author of Churchill’s Bestiary: His Life Through Animals (2018). See extract page 50.
As an Oxford undergraduate Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father, kept his own pack of harriers, nine couple of hounds supervised by a whip dressed in livery. At Blenheim Palace, where Winston was born in 1874, twenty gamekeepers wearing brown breeches, green velvet coats with brass buttons and black billycock hats, assisted by an army of loaders and beaters, ensured that the Duke of Marlborough’s field sports, often attended by royalty, were conducted like military operations. The immense stable block, housing carriage horses as well as a score of magnificent hunters, was run by a platoon of grooms, and in the great house some eighty servants were on hand to cope with a large dog population. Gladys—wife of Winston’s cousin Sunny, ninth Duke of Marlborough—was said to walk around on a “moving carpet of King Charles spaniels,” and she bid fair to turn the palace into a kennel.1 In short, Winston was brought up in symbiosis with animals, both wild and tame, and with the people who managed their lives.
Like other members of the Victorian upper class, Churchill had no difficulty in reconciling his fondness for blood sports with his affection for creatures great and small. Hunting, shooting, and fishing were intrinsic to aristocratic life at the time, activities deemed essential to a wholesome rural existence, part of the natural order of things. At the same time pets were cherished with sentimental devotion, and kindness to animals was regarded—as Churchill himself said it should be—as a mark and duty of civilisation. Where he was unusual was in his passionate engagement with the animal kingdom.
Churchill revelled in the thrill of the chase, saying that fox-hunting was the greatest pleasure in the world and later delighting in hunting big game in Africa and wild boar in France. Yet at Chartwell, his home in Kent, he surrounded himself with domestic creatures (including pet foxes) who became members of his extended family. He doted on them extravagantly, investing them with human characteristics. They permeated his mind, imbuing his conversation and his rhetoric with animal imagery. He identified with them, talked to them, even wrote them letters. They became bit-part players in the psychodrama of his life. Hesitating when his wife Clementine urged him to get on with carving a large roast chicken on the dining table, he said in a voice fraught with emotion: “I’m just wondering if this is Ethel.”2Read More >
For more about Churchill’s animals, see pages 11 and 50.
Coming in Finest Hour 184: Churchill’s Monarchs
10 August 1954
CHARTWELL—My Darling, Here I stay in bed most of the time and only go out to feed the fish. Gabriel [Clementine’s Siamese cat] gets on very well with everyone except his yellow rival. He is very friendly to me and Rufus [the poodle] and most attractive.
One gets no consolation at this moment from the animal world. All the Chartwell rabbits are dead [from myxomatosis] and now the poor foxes have nothing to eat, so they attack the little pigs and of course have eaten the few pheasants. It is said they will perish and migrate and that then there will be no one to cope with the beetles and rats.
On the other side the Swans are well, and the Zoo came down yesterday to clip their wings so that they cannot fly away if they dislike what is going on around them. Christopher [Soames] and I have jointly invested nearly £1,000 in 8 Swedish “Land race” pigs: out of which he expects to make a fortune. They live at Bardogs and have remarkable figures.
Their hams are much admired and there are only about 1,200 of them in our Pig population of 5 millions. The Boar is said to be worth 5 or 6 Hundred £s, and in two years we hope to make a fortune.
My darling one I brood much about things, and all my moods are not equally gay….My beloved darling come back soon refreshed and revived, and if possible bring the Sun with you as well as your lovely smile—W[inston]
Cita Stelzer is author of Working with Winston: The Unsung Women behind Britain’s Greatest Statesman to be published this May and from which this article is adapted.
In the course of his long career, Winston Churchill published numerous histories (earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature) containing some thirteen million words. He also produced untold memoranda, letters, directives, and an estimated 5,000 speeches for delivery in the House of Commons and to audiences in Britain, America, Canada, the Soviet Union, and other countries, as well as over the wireless. When completed, The Churchill Documents, published by Hillsdale College, will consist of twenty-three hefty volumes. And those volumes do not include his published books. Without the help of his many talented and devoted personal secretaries, such an enormous, high-quality output would almost certainly have been impossible. Most of it was dictated to his teams of ever-present secretaries, some of it while in cars, planes, trains, and some of it while in bed at 8 AM or again after dinner until 2 AM. Whether preparing to correspond with President Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, or his wife Clemmie, or to transmit instructions to his generals, Churchill knew that the shout of “Miss” would instantly produce a young lady to “take down.”
Churchill was a non-stop worker, especially during the Second World War when he rigorously enforced his rule (a blessing for later historians) that every instruction, every thought, must be reduced to written memoranda to avoid confusion, or perhaps deliberate misinterpretation. This made accurate transcription of his words essential to his direction of Britain’s war effort. True, he did take an occasional afternoon off to paint except during the war, but even then it was the job of his secretaries to see to it that proper paints, brushes, and canvasses arrived wherever he might be when he found time to relax. And the blue paint requested was not just any blue, but often a specific hue, such as cobalt. Read More >
125 Years Ago
Summer 1893 • Age 18 “I Had at Length Got In.”
Winston spent the summer of 1893 with his brother Jack on holiday in Switzerland. Shortly before leaving, he learned he had passed the Sandhurst entrance exam. He promptly sent a telegram to Lord Randolph telling him of this and, in Lucerne on 6 August, wrote a letter to him saying, “I was so glad to be able to send you good news last Thursday.”
Lord Randolph’s reply on 9 August did not reciprocate the enthusiasm. He expressed his “surprise at your tone of exultation over your inclusion in the Sandhurst list.” His father was primarily displeased that Winston’s score was not high enough to secure him a position in the infantry, only the cavalry. Thus, he complained, Winston had “imposed on me an extra charge of 200 pounds a year” to purchase and care for horses. “With all the advantages you had and all the abilities which you foolishly think yourself to possess & which some of your relations claim for you, with all the efforts that have been made to make your life easy & agreeable & your work neither oppressive nor distasteful, this is the grand result that you come up among the 2nd and 3rd rate class who are only good for commissions in a cavalry regiment.”
Winston S. Churchill
by Sir John Lavery
the First World War,
Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018
By Douglas S. Russell
Douglas S. Russell is author of Winston Churchill, Soldier: The Military Life of a Gentleman at War (2005).
Winston S. Churchill in his memoir My Early Life famously wrote, “Twenty to twenty-five, those are the years.”1 Indeed, those were years of great adventure and real achievement for the young lieutenant of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. During those years from 1895 to 1900, Churchill saw combat in Cuba, India, Sudan, and South Africa, was mentioned in dispatches and recommended for a decoration, earned four campaign medals and the Spanish Order of Military Merit, wrote five books, established himself as a popular war correspondent and lecturer, gained international fame as an escaped prisoner of war, and was elected to a seat in Parliament, all before his twenty-sixth birthday.
Churchill was interested in things military from a young age. His earliest surviving letter, written at age seven, is about toy soldiers, flags, and castles. It was, according to Churchill’s autobiography, his large collection of toy soldiers that led Lord Randolph Churchill to choose a military career for his son when Winston was only fourteen years old.2 As a schoolboy at Harrow, he was placed in the army class to prepare for the entrance examinations for the Royal Military College Sandhurst. He also actively participated in the Harrow School Volunteer Rifle Corps, where he wore a uniform and received military training for the first time. Churchill had an early and strong belief in his own star. As a schoolboy at Harrow he told a classmate in 1891, “I have a wonderful idea of where I shall be eventually…. London will be in danger and in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capital and save the Empire.”3
The recent Channel 4 documentary “Churchill’s Secret Mistress” asserted, but did not establish, that the great man had an affair with Doris, the wife of Viscount Castlerosse during the mid-1930s. The evidence that two well-qualified historians, Warren Dockter and Richard Toye, produced to make the case for this adultery is flimsy and circumstantial, whereas Churchill gave a lifelong demonstration of his faithful devotion to his wife Clementine.
Having been Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge and written much about Churchill and the inter-war period, I was interviewed for the documentary myself. During filming, I explained my reasons for disbelieving in the alleged liaison.
I noted that the allegation rests on two pieces of testimony. The first is a 1985 tape-recording in which Sir John Colville, one of Churchill’s wartime private secretaries, asserted that Churchill “certainly had an affair.” The second is a family tradition expounded by Lady Castlerosse’s niece, based on confidences shared with her relations at the time, that Doris did indeed become Churchill’s mistress.
Justin Reash is Deputy Editor of Finest Hour and works at the University of Michigan.
Churchill. Chartwell. Cinema. How did an unused room on the lower level of Chartwell become a portal for Churchill’s escapism? By chance, as it happens. Though not a subject found in many books or academic studies, films played an important role in Winston Churchill’s life. They were an extension of his personality. Like painting, watching movies helped him to relax.
Furthermore, as an artist himself, films allowed Churchill to criticize and explore the creativity of others. But movies held another attraction for him. Stories are told on the screen, and Churchill was passionate for stories. He wrote stories, spoke stories, and painted stories. Thus, films were yet another medium for him to live his storied life.
Churchill’s love for the cinema produced memories for people beyond himself. His granddaughter Celia Sandys says that some of her first memories of Chartwell, her grandfather’s home in Kent, are those of watching films in rooms that smelled of “Napoleon brandy and cigars and my grandfather saying ‘let it roll’”— which was the signal to start the film. Lady Williams of Elvel, who as Jane Portal worked as a secretary to Churchill from 1949 to 1955, remembers spending many weekend evenings in the cinema and how much pleasure it brought her boss.
Celia and Jane recently discussed the Chartwell cinema together at the 2017 International Churchill Conference in New York City. Based on their memories and those recorded by others, we can tell the story of how, thanks to good friends and new technology, Churchill’s treasured home became the epicenter for one of his great passions and most important forms of entertainment.
Robert James received his Ph.D. in English from UCLA. He is author of the series Who Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars.
Winston Churchill had excellent taste in movies. His three favorite films have all remained recognized classics, beloved by fans for generations: Charlie Chaplin’s masterwork, City Lights (1931); Alexander Korda’s romance That Hamilton Woman (1941); and Laurence Olivier’s most innovative work as a director, Henry V (1944). City Lights is a strong candidate for the greatest of Chaplin’s films, as well as the height of American silent film. That Hamilton Woman tops the category of the doomed lover genre, as well as being the most enduring of the three films Olivier made with Vivien Leigh. Henry V broke new cinematic ground in adapting Shakespeare, and for many endures as the finest of all Shakespeare films not directed by Orson Welles or Akira Kurosawa. Churchill loved all three of these, and had a hand in either promoting or creating them—or both.
Charlie Chaplin was facing disaster aft er Warner Brothers released The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie,” on 26 October 1927. But then, so was all of Hollywood, although it took people time to recognize that—and nobody took longer than Chaplin, the king of the silent screen, the most famous face in the world (even today, people are more likely to recognize Chaplin than any other movie star of the first half of the Twentieth Century—except perhaps Mickey Mouse). Chaplin would go on making silent films long aft er everybody else had converted to sound; he did not release his first true talking picture until The Great Dictator in 1940. He had other tragedies on his hands as well, including the troubled production of The Circus (the sets burned down), his mother’s death, his ugly scandalous divorce from his second wife, and the IRS demanding payment of back taxes.
125 Years ago
Autumn 1892 • Age 18
“If He Fails Again…”
Winston’s brother Jack joined him at Harrow in the fall and the two boys shared a room. On 24 September, their mother wrote to Winston: “I hope you & Jack are settled and comfortable. Do write & tell me all about it, & what you find your room wants.” In fact, their room did not want for much as he advised her in a letter on one occasion: “The room is very beautiful. We purchased in London sufficiency of ornaments to make it look simply magnificent.” He later wrote that “The room is now very nice, in fact it is universally spoken of as the best room in the House.”
On 25 October, Lord Randolph advised his sons that their mother was “extremely ill yesterday and we were rather alarmed.” In fact, Lady Randolph was diagnosed on 12 October as having an enlarged ovary that was causing her a great deal of pain for which the treating physician had advised her to “rest and do nothing to bring on pain.” By 22 October, her condition had not improved and she was given morphine as “the absolute necessity of controlling the pain.” The problem did not clear up until early in December.
Date: 1924/1925 –
Materials: Oil on millboard –
Measurements: 356 x 508 mm (14 x 20 in) –
Place of origin: Chartwell
Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018
By Barry Phipps
Barry Phipps is an art historian and a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. He wishes to thank Katherine Carter and the staff at Chartwell for assistance with this article.
The snow has stopped falling. Chartwell and the garden sit under a hefty, white cloak. The air is cold, quiet, and still. Sunshine dazzles, reflected by the snow and glowing from the house; only the shadows of trees and shrubs give respite from the intensity of the phosphorescent light.
The grounding colours of Winter Sunshine, Chartwell (1924/5) are greens, browns, and blacks, which are constructed to frame the view of the house between the foliage of shrubs and trees. The house is draped in russet colours of reds, oranges, and yellows, contrasting sharply with the background of deep shadows. The white paint is laid thick, with heavy layers foregrounding the vista, as if it had just fallen and now rests upon our view. An intense sense of sunlight shimmers across the scene. The colours are sensational rather than representative, lending the painting an emotional dimension. It is a work that prioritises subjectivity over observation.
The painting is one of Churchill’s most important. It is the work that elevated his hobby from personal pastime to critical acclaim. The story of how the painting was submitted anonymously to an amateur art exhibition is well-documented. On the reverse of the canvas is a letter signed by Oswald Birley relating how he, as one of the judges for the exhibition, awarded it first prize. He did so, however, against the wishes of one of the judges, Sir Joseph Duveen, who is said to have refused to believe it was by an amateur. It was only when the renowned art historian Kenneth Clark sided with Birley that the prize was duly awarded. Emboldened by this success, Churchill subsequently entered the same painting, under the pseudonym David Winter, to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, which gained him entry into the RA in 1947. Read More >
David Lough is author of No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money (Head of Zeus, Picador, 2015).
Was it the rolling acres of Blenheim or the chicken and rabbits of Banstead? Something in Winston Churchill’s childhood kept propelling him toward the dream of his own house in the country, surrounded by land and animals. It lay beyond reach until the First World War, when property prices had fallen far enough by 1915 for the two Churchill brothers to lease a small estate where their young families could spend the summer together. It was the land around Hoe Farm rather than its fifteenth-century house that appealed: “It really is a delightful valley and the garden gleams with summer jewellery,” Churchill wrote to Jack.1
The lease lasted just one summer, but his wife Clementine was equally smitten; that winter while Churchill fought in the trenches she wrote of her own longing for “a little country basket.”2 Churchill found on his return that he could earn much more than he expected by writing articles for newspapers, so the hunt was soon on for what he described to Sir Archibald Sinclair, a large landlord himself, as a permanent “country seat.” “I wish to find a place to end my days amid trees & upon grass of my own!” he wrote his former companion in the trenches. “Freed from the penury of office these consolations become possible.”3
Richard Toye, ed., Winston Churchill: Politics, Strategy and Statecraft, Bloomsbury, 2017, 231 pages, $29.95/£21.99. ISBN 978–1474263856
Readers of Finest Hour know better than anyone that there is no end to the outpouring of books about Winston Churchill, focussing on ever more obscure corners of his titanic life. This slim volume, on the contrary, seeks to encompass the most important elements of his whole career, not in another full-scale biography—there have surely been enough of those—but in fifteen short essays on different strands or themes.
It is not entirely clear who it is aimed at. It aspires simultaneously to be “suitable for those coming to Churchill for the first time” while also “providing new insights for those already familiar with his life.” But inevitably it falls between stools—too academic for the first category, but too brief to offer much to the second. It is best seen as a concise survey of how a number of distinguished scholars view Churchill today.
What is original, however, is that the endnotes provide full references to the papers held at Churchill College, Cambridge, now digitised and available online, while an e-book edition provides links to the original documents. So perhaps the real target audience is students. The fifteen essays are of variable quality. The first two or three, covering Churchill’s early career, are a bit perfunctory, adding little to the received picture, though Peter Catterall defends Churchill’s controversial 1925 decision as Chancellor of the Exchequer to put Britain back on the gold standard, arguing that it could have worked and was less responsible for provoking the general strike the following year than has often been alleged.
125 Years ago
Spring 1892 • Age 17
“His Quick and Dashing Attack”
Winston ’s parents knew of his interest in fencing, but he modestly downplayed his talents, telling his father in a mid-February letter, “I am getting on with my fencing and hope, with luck, to be school champion.” A month later he wrote his mother: “I am awfully excited about the fencing which comes off on Tuesday. I know I shall get beaten yet…!”
On 24 March, Winston wrote his mother, telling her that he had “won the Fencing” at Harrow and received a “very fine cup.” His earlier modesty was cast aside as he went on to say, “I was far and away the first. Absolutely untouched in the finals.” He had also written to his father about it, and Lord Randolph replied on 25 March: “I congratulate you on your success. I only hope fencing will not too much divert your attention from the army class.” His father enclosed a twopound note “with which you will be able to make a present to yr fencing master.”
Winning the fencing championship at Harrow meant that Winston would represent his school at the all-Public Schools gymnastic, boxing, and fencing competition to be held at Aldershot in early April. He wrote to his father on 27 March asking him if he would be able to attend, as “I would so much like you to go.” Unfortunately, he also asked his father if he “could send me a sovereign for myself,” since it “would be great service in making up my accounts.”
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.