Churchill continued to paint until he was in his eighties, still taking pleasure in his hobby. On his travels – to France, Italy (and Lake Como), Jamaica, and, after his resignation from government in 1955, to Sicily – Churchill was never without his paints and easel. He left Britain to find some sunshine and warm weather at Lord Beaverbrook’s villa La Capponcina at Cap D’Ail – this was to become an increasingly favoured haven in his last years for painting – and to La Pausa, a villa near Roquebrune above Cap Martin, the home of Emery and Wendy Reves.
‘Do not turn the superior eye of critical passivity upon these efforts …. We must not be ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box.’
Churchill, Painting as a Pastime
Eventually, the frailties of old age caught up with Churchill. In 1958, he paid two long visits to La Pausa where he began to feel less and less inclined to pick up a brush (he caught bronchial pneumonia and suffered fevers while there); his physical strength was finally failing.
In 1959, Churchill visited Morocco – and Marrakech (where he’d painted some of his most acclaimed pictures) – and painted from his balcony at La Mamounia for the final time. And when he next visited La Pausa, later in 1959, he found himself no longer able to wield his paintbrush. But he continued to be feted and honoured, and he was treated as a great statesman, the ‘Old Warrior’, wherever he went.
He enjoyed a final visit to the White House in 1959 and made one last visit to New York on board the ‘Christina’ in 1961. In America, he became the second person after Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette to receive honorary US citizenship and the first by Act of Congress. On 9 April 1963, Kennedy signed a Congressionally authorized proclamation conferring honorary US citizenship upon Churchill. Too frail to travel to America to attend the ceremony, Churchill watched from England via live satellite broadcast.
In June 1962, Churchill broke his hip during a fall in his bedroom at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and was transferred to the Middlesex Hospital (he told Montague Browne ‘I want to die in England’ and was flown back in a scrambled RAF jet). He stayed in hospital for two months.
In fact, Churchill was more than ready for retirement. Only a year after his resignation, days before his eighty-second birthday, he finally admitted that he was not the man he was; he could not be Prime Minister now. Only a week after his last cabinet meeting, he and Clemmie went on holiday to Syracuse.
I am not the man I was. I could not be Prime Minister now.
Churchill to Lord Moran, 26 November 1956 (cited in Langworth Churchill: In His Own Words)
Even though he was not the man he was, and despite his failing health, Churchill began his ‘retirement’ with some of his old vigour and energy. For an elderly man, he was remarkably resilient and determined. He embarked on holidays, painting tours and new writing projects.
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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.