March 24, 2017

Churchill was delighted to receive recognition as an artist when he was made Honorary Academician Extraordinary in 1948, by the Royal Academy of Arts. But not all in the art world were so positive about his talents. In 1958 the assistant director of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Institute declined the opportunity to exhibit Churchill’s painting by referring to one of his other ‘hobbies’: ‘I understand that Churchill is a terrific bricklayer too, but nobody is exhibiting bricks this season.’ The director of the Art Institute of Chicago was more brusque: ‘We have certain professional standards.’ Others were rather more generous.

Churchill himself always insisted he painted for pleasure. Despite welcoming the recognition his pictures received, he was keen that his art should not be regarded as ‘ambitious’ and assessed as if it were so. What do you think? Was Churchill a good artist?

‘…an amateur of considerable natural ability who, had he had the time [to study and practice] could have held his own with most professionals … especially as a colourist.’
Sir Hugh Casson, President of the Royal Academy of Art, 1982

‘We need not adjudicate. But whenever we hear of one of the accredited experts calling Churchill names, let us at least remember that an amateur is really a lover, and a dilettante one who delights.’
Ernst H. Gombrich, art historian and author of The Story of Art (in ‘Winston Churchill as Painter and Critic’, 1965)

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