winston churchill

Portrait of Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, 1954
oil on canvas, 58 x 48 inches
painting destroyed by Mrs. Winston Churchill



Portrait of the week No 82


Graham Sutherland's Winston Churchill (1954)

by Jonathan Jones
Guardian, Saturday November 3, 200


Artist: Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), one of the neo-romantic painters who dominated British art during the second world war and its aftermath. Sutherland's style, thorny, charred, tinged with wintry colours, is visibly influenced by Picasso and Matisse - yet unmistakably British, harking back to the great landscape painters of the early 19th century.

Sutherland brought together his passionate sense of landscape and modern awareness of violence in paintings of bomb damage during the Blitz. However, Sutherland's star never quite rose as high as his supporters hoped. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was outshone by the younger, harsher Francis Bacon; then, by the time of pop art, was left looking old.

Sutherland was championed notably by the 1980s critic Peter Fuller, who saw his romanticism as a viable, moral option for artists now. But he seems destined to remain an also-ran of 20th century art history.

Subject: Sir Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) had already suffered a stroke, concealed from the public, when he was returned as prime minister in the 1951 election.

After a career marked by extraordinary achievements - war correspondent during the Boer war, Liberal home secretary (hated for setting troops against striking miners) and his finest hour as wartime prime minister - Churchill's strangest, least celebrated times came after the war.

For all his popularity abroad, the British electorate rejected him in 1945. He was reduced to lecture tours in the US, where his melodramatic image of an "iron curtain" fired nascent cold war imaginations. Churchill, however, became prime minister again at the beginning of the 1950s, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his six-volume The Second World War.

The war leader's final period of power was marked by dwindling health and, in 1955, he retired. Sutherland was commissioned by both Houses of Parliament to paint a full-length portrait of Churchill in 1954, for which this is a study. The finished painting was presented to Churchill. It was destroyed by his wife Clementine.

Distinguishing features: The destruction of Sutherland's painting is one of the most notorious cases of a subject disliking their portrait. This painted sketch of Churchill's head, a study for the lost, full-length painting, suggests why. It's not simply that Sutherland's modernist tendencies irked the conservative tastes of the Sunday painter prime minister. This is a very unhappy painting. Old, grumpy, with an anger that no longer seems leavened by the humour and verbal creativity of the Churchill of legend, this is a reactionary curmudgeon surrounded by the shades of night.

The painting is black and rough, as if burnt, as if Churchill were emerging from the ruins of Europe, from a world not saved but shattered. The man himself still has a stoic authority; he might be the ancient Roman Cicero waiting to be murdered. There's a sculpted quality to his sturdy bald head that reminds you of Roman busts. There's also a sadness and sense of defeat, rather than the assertion of indomitability in the Churchill statue outside the Houses of Parliament. This is a man alone, in the real wilderness years.

Inspirations and influences: Walter Richard Sickert's earlier picture of Churchill (1927) catches an impressionistic enigma in its subject - best known at that time for his savagery toward the 1926 General Strike, changing parties, and veering from reformism to class hate.

Portraits of British prime ministers have often recorded vulnerability. Millais painted Disraeli when he was dying; John Singleton Copley painted the death of Pitt the Elder in 1778, when he collapsed on the floor of the House of Lords after coming from his sick bed to speak (all in the National Portrait Gallery). This week, the first official portrait of another wartime British leader was unveiled: Jonathan Yeo's intense take on Tony Blair.

Where is it? National Portrait Gallery, London WC2 (020-7306 0055).

Source: Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001



Forerunner of lost Churchill portrait goes on show

by John Ezard
Guardian, Thursday July 1, 1999


In private, looking into a log fire shortly before he died in 1965, Sir Winston Churchill said: "I know what it's like to be a log: reluctant to be consumed - but yielding in the end to persuasion".

But in public the ex-wartime prime minister hated being shown suffering from the indignities which old age and a stroke had inflicted on him only a few years after Hitler's defeat. In 1954, he was so appalled by a frank official portrait of him by Graham Sutherland that it vanished as soon as thejoint houses of Parliament gave it to him as an 80th birthday present. Yesterday a preliminary study for the controversial lost Sutherland portrait went on public view in Britain for the first time. The painting shows Churchill with milky skin creviced with lines and wasted throat muscles. Not surprisingly he was "grumpy and difficult" while Sutherland was doing the study in 1954.

But for Churchill the eventual full portrait was even worse. It is said to have been hidden at Chartwell, his home in Kent, and destroyed by his wife Clementine after his death. It depicted him slouched in a chair, legs apart. "It makes me look half-witted, which I ain't", he reportedly commented. The head-and-shoulders study is on loan at Canada House, London as part of an exhibition of Daily Express founder Lord Beaverbrook's collection from New Brunswick, Canada. Beaverbrook, a friend of Churchill's, bought it from Sutherland.

"Sutherland was just painting what he saw," Michael Regan, visual arts officer at Canada House, said yesterday. "At the time that may have been a controversial thing to do". The study, though kinder than the full portrait, still has the power to irritate some of Churchill's descendants. His grandson Winston, who is Beaverbrook's godson, attended an preview of the exhibition but refused to be photographed with it.

The exhibition, From Sargant to Freud, is in London until September 24 and at the Graves gallery, Sheffield, from October 12-January 29

Source: Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 1999




  • Image: A. Hawkyard: "Portrait of Winston Churchill," 1940

  • Churchill Internet Resources

  • Photograph: Yosuf Karsh Portrait of Churchill

  • Images: Velazquez & Karsh Portraits   Pictures for the People

    ">This is Velazquez' portrait of Juan De Pareja, painted in 1649 and this > is Yosuf Karsh's photograph of Winston Churchill, made nearly 300 years later >. The Velazquez portrait represents not just the sitter, but also, for our purposes, an already ancient system of formal, representational, portraiture. The Karsh photograph, disdained by the avant-garde photographers of its time, is an obvious continuation of this earlier portrait tradition. The Velazquez is a great work of art, but the Karsh is not. While Velazquez was describing his subject in the context of a highly developed and living system of representation in paint, Karsh instead took the old visual structure of traditional painted portraits and applied it to the medium of photography."   Richard Benson






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