Churchill’s articles on the pleasures of painting appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1921 and 1922, netting him the handsome sum of £1000 (considerably more than his paintings would earn him in his lifetime, of course). Clementine was cautious: ‘I expect the professionals would be vexed & say you do not yet know enough about Art’. Mary, his daughter, later wrote that Clementine was ‘in principle opposed to Winston’s writing what she regarded as “pot-boilers” to boost their domestic economy’. But Churchill, the professional writer (and now a passionate painter), prevailed; his articles were a great success, explaining vividly why such pleasure was to be found in painting. His painting also provided consolation and peace in times of despair and grief.
‘Happy are the painters for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end, or almost to the end, of the day.’
Churchill, Hobbies, written in 1925 and perhaps reflecting the solace painting had provided him since the death of his daughter Marigold.
Before too long, rather than playing with his nephew’s watercolour paintbox, Churchill was tackling oil painting. On learning of Churchill’s experimentation and enthusiasm a near neighbour, Sir John Lavery, the renowned Anglo-Irish and official WWI artist, together with his talented artist wife Hazel, gave practical advice and help and encouraged this new hobby. Later in 1915, Churchill was often to be found working in Lavery’s studio in London, not far from the house Churchill and his brother Jack were sharing, with their families, on Cromwell Road. Churchill was to take his paints with him wherever he travelled – at home and abroad – throughout this life. Enthralled with his new hobby, he painted during the First World War while at the Western Front in early 1916 (as a Lieutenant-Colonel with the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers), at ‘Plug Street’ (Ploegsteert) in Flanders. On his return from the First World War and during the 1920s, even when embroiled again in political life, Churchill continued to paint. In fact, painting intensified as a pleasure and it was at this time that he wrote two articles about it, praising the enormous rewards to be gained from painting as a pastime.
Reproduced from the Baroness Spencer Churchill Papers with the permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London, on behalf of the Master, Fellows and Scholars of Churchill College, Cambridge. Original held at The Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge. Image ref: CSCT 05 009 077
In 1915, during the First World War, Churchill helped orchestrate the disastrous Dardanelles naval campaign and the related military landings on Gallipoli, both of which saw enormous losses of life. As a result, Churchill found himself publicly and politically discredited. He was demoted to the token post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. It seemed his political career was at an end. Devastated and despairing, Churchill retreated to a rented house, Hoe Farm, near Godalming, Surrey, with Clementine and the children.
One day in June, his sister-in-law, Gwendoline (or ‘Goonie’), was painting in the garden and, seeing Churchill’s interest, suggested he try it himself. She loaned him her young son’s paint-box. So began one of his life’s passions. Churchill took to painting, at the age of forty, with his customary gusto, seeing it as his salvation from despair – ‘the Muse of Painting came to my rescue’. He continued to paint for the next forty years.
‘Like a sea-beast fished up from the depths, or a diver too suddenly hoisted, my veins threatened to burst from the fall in pressure. I had great anxiety and no means of relieving it … And then it was that the Muse of Painting came to my rescue — out of charity and out of chivalry … — and said, “Are these toys any good to you? They amuse some people.”’
Churchill, Painting as a Pastime
Werner Vogt wrote his PhD dissertation about Churchill’s pictures in Switzerland’s leading daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The author of numerous newspaper articles and books, his latest book, about Churchill’s relationship to Switzerland, is reviewed on page 41.
It would be pretentious to assume that Switzerland played a major role in Winston Churchill’s life. Nevertheless he had many links to Switzerland, starting with his first travel abroad and finishing in the last year he lived, when his friend and supplier of his oil paints Willy Sax died shortly before him. For the Swiss people Churchill became a hero in 1940, and when he visited the city of Zurich on 19 September 1946 tens of thousands of people were cheering along the streets. The Swiss people’s gratitude was limitless. They made his drive through the city a triumphal parade. Never before and never after Churchill have the Swiss paid tribute to a great man like this.
A Most Tiring Mountain
Churchill’s first encounter with the Swiss and their homeland happened when he visited the country as a tourist in the summers of 1893 and 1894 together with his brother Jack and their tutor, Mr Little. These were in fact Churchill’s first travels abroad as a young man. He had a keen eye for the beauty of nature and wrote a series of enthusiastic letters to his mother, wherein he described the astounding scenery of the Swiss mountains and lakes but also some cities, which were to his liking. He even went so far as to climb Monte Rosa in the Valais, a substantial but by no means difficult mountain in the Canton of Valais. In a letter to his mother Churchill wrote: Read More >
Max Arthur, Churchill, The Life: An Authorised Pictorial Biography, Cassell Illustrated, 2015, 272 pages, £25.00. ISBN 978-1844038596
Churchill’s life was extraordinarily rich in visual imagery. He loved the camera and the camera loved him, as did cartoonists and portrait painters. His face exhibited a range of deep emotions that others preferred to conceal behind a stiff upper lip. His eccentricities of dress and theatrical gestures were the work of a great actor who could play Falstaff one day and Henry V the next. It is no wonder that his life has always lent itself to pictorial treatment, nor that so many photographs and portraits of him have achieved iconic status over the past fifty years. Most readers of Finest Hour will therefore probably be familiar with the majority of pictures in Max Arthur’s new compilation. He has, however, been at pains to vary the menu by including a number of hitherto unpublished pictures together with reproductions of original documents and a bonus item: specially commissioned shots of such Churchill memorabilia as his gramophone record of HMS Pinafore. He has also embedded the pictures, which are beautifully produced, in the text of a brief biography. Read More >
On 6 May 2015 a new bust of Sir Winston Churchill was officially dedicated inside the Pentagon. Finest Hour Senior Editor Paul H. Courtenay is a friend of the artist and provides the following background.
I live in a small Hampshire village about a five minutes’ walk from the workshop of the artist Vivien Mallock. We have been friends for a long time, as I first served in the Army with her husband Ross some fifty years ago. Vivien is a leading sculptress, and I had often seen her at work and marvelled at her skill when in September 2010 I casually asked what she would create as her next project. She replied that she had recently submitted a detailed application to be chosen for a commission to create a bronze bust of Sir Winston Churchill. I rather brashly said: “I haven’t heard anything about this!” Equally surprised, she replied: “Why should you?” Clearly, she knew nothing of my Churchill interests, so I told her about them, which led her to say: “I wish I had known that months ago: it would have saved me a lot of research work.”
Not long afterwards, in November, Vivien heard that she had been selected for the commission. She then told me that this was from the UK Ministry of Defence, which wanted to present the bronze to the US Department of Defense for permanent display in the Pentagon. The bronze would be one-and-a-half times life-size and extend from the top of Sir Winston’s head to the bottom of his waistcoat. At about this time I thought I should find out if the Churchill family was aware of what was in the wind; it was a complete surprise to them all. Read More >
The Oscar Nemon bust in the Churchill Memorial Garden at Blenheim (above). Reverse side of the Garter Banner of Lady Soames hanging at the rear of the Nave of St. Martin’s Church, Bladon (right). The new gravestone at Bladon of Lord and Lady Soames was installed in May 2015 (below).
The design of the new Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Window fits seamlessly into the architecture of St. Martin’s Church to reflect the design of the existing Spencer-Churchill window.
The main figures are St. Martin and St. Alban. St. Martin is, appropriately, the patron saint of soldiers. St. Alban was chosen to be the second saint, as he is held to be the first martyr of England.
The design is crowned by Sir Winston’s coat of arms. The window is thereafter divided into two “lights,” one for each saint, and fitting in with the existing tracery.
The left-hand “St. Martin” light features the cap badge of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. Vines and grapes form the background; St. Martin is the patron saint of vintners. At the foot of the light is a vignette of Sir Winston touring a wartime dockyard, cheered by the workers. Read More >
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Churchill was delighted when a little girl surprised him with flowers one day in Italy. Gratefully moving his cane aside, he gave her a kiss on the cheek. Missing his own family, and beset with troubles, he truly loved this moment. I guess we’ll never know the little chap behind the bouquet. … See MoreSee Less
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.