The Churchill File

Churchill the Artist

In 1915,during the First World War, Churchill lost his leading position in government. Although not the only supporter of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign he was certainly in the lead on it and, although later substantially exonerated, had to take the political blame. With more time suddenly on his hands he took up painting as a form of relaxation, as a way of distracting himself from the frustrations of watching the progress of the war but being unable any longer to influence events.

LIFE® - Churchill with Painting, 1948
 

He was fortunate in having artists, including Sir John Lavery and his wife, as near neighbours and was given good advice from the start. Walter Sickert, an old friend of Clementine from her teenage years in France, gave Winston frequent practical guidance both in person and by correspondence. As the years passed he formed friendships with many prominent artists on both sides of the Channel, as well as on occasions taking painting holidays with other enthusiastic amateurs.

Some of his early canvasses (for he concentrated on oils, not water-colour) were painted in "Plug-Street", the British soldiers' name for Ploegsteert in Belgium, during breaks from the fighting when he was a battalion commander in the trenches. His meticulous attention to detail is exemplified by the lengths to which he went to find a way of representing effectively a sense of depth in the shell-craters marking the farmyard in which he painted.

He did occasionally make forays into portrait painting, but his real strength was in landscape. As early as 1921 he had a successful exhibition of his work at a private gallery in Paris, although not under his own name but using a pseudnym, Charles Morin. Later in life he again adopted anonymity when submitting to the Royal Academy in London under the name, David Winter. From 1947 to 1959, forty-three of his paintings were selected to be hung in the Academy's Summer Exhibitions, without missing a year.

For the whole of the second half of his long life he enjoyed painting as a therapeutic relaxation. Scenes in many countries became the targets of his brushes as he moved from place to place both in the course of his official duties and in a private capacity - France, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, Madeira, and many more. As others might take a photograph, so Churchill painted a canvas. Of course, it took longer, and one has to ask whether it would be possible today in the frenetic whirl of media-driven political immediacy. Probably not.

 


Books on Churchill as a Painter

There have been three substantial works on Churchill as a painter, two of which are illustrated below, the first ("Churchill: his paintings") by David Coombs, published by Hamish Hamilton, London, 1967. This is primarily a catalogue but in 2004 the author collaborated with Minnie Churchill, Sir Winston's grand-daughter-in-law, on a biographically more extensive volume, "Sir Winston Churchill: His Life Through His Paintings"

Churchill: His Paintings 1967

The first extensive biographical work related specifically to his art was by his daughter Mary Soames, "Winston Churchill: His Life As A Painter", published by Collins, London, 1990 .

Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter 1990

In addition it is sometimes possible to find a reasonable quality copy of the Royal Academy souvenir of the 1959 exhibition of his work (see the right hand column above)

 

Find rare and out-of-print books at Biblio

 


Visiting Churchill places?

 

Part of Churchill collection
Churchill - Royal Academy Souvenir 1959

© 2006, 2007, Hilda and David Murray (BrunleaBooks).
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