Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, Marrakech, oil on canvas, estimate: £300,000-500,000. © Sotheby's Images.
LONDON - Sir Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) was one of the great statesmen of the 20th Century but it is his paintings that have put him in the spotlight over the last year or so. In July of this year Sotheby’s sold a view of his home, Chartwell Landscape with Sheep, for £1 million – a new auction record for a work by him (by nearly twice the previous record) – while in December last year, a Moroccan scene entitled View of Tinherir that Churchill had gifted to General George C. Marshall, fetched £612,800, again at a Sotheby’s auction.
Now, on Thursday, December 13, 2007, Sotheby’s is delighted to announce that it will be offering Churchill’s Marrakech as a highlight of its forthcoming sale of 20th Century British Art in London. Marrakech is comparable to View of Tinherir but arguably superior in both composition and provenance. The painting has superlative provenance; it was a gift from Churchill to the former US President, Harry S. Truman, in 1951 and has remained with the Truman family ever since. The work is being sold by the former President’s daughter, Margaret Truman Daniel, who actually hand-carried the painting from Downing Street, London to the US on behalf of her father.
Never before offered at auction - and last exhibited at the World Fair in New York in 1965 - Marrakech is expected to fetch £300,000-500,000. Unseen by the outside world for many decades, the reappearance of this work is sure to attract huge interest in both collectors and academics alike.
Churchill was enthralled by the muse of painting and he avidly pursued what he consistently called his ‘pastime’ for most of his life. For such a physically strong and restless man, the act of painting proved an ideal balm and release and he was in fact quoted as saying, “if it weren’t for painting, I couldn’t live; I couldn’t bear the strain of things.” Wherever Churchill went he was accompanied by paints, brushes, canvases and his easel and in 1948, he was thrilled to receive the prestigious recognition of Honorary Academician Extraordinary from London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Modest about his worth as a painter, however, Churchill often gave his most prized works to people he admired and wanted to honour with the most personal of gifts. Public figures of such stature as Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower, Viscount Montgomery, Earl Lloyd-George and General George C. Marshall were among the worthy people to receive such tokens of friendship and respect.
Churchill served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1940-1945 and again from 1951-1955 while Truman held power from 1945-1953. The two first met following the defeat of Nazi Germany when Truman, Churchill and Stalin – representing the US, Great Britain and the Soviet Union respectively – gathered at the Potsdam Conference near Berlin in July 1945 to discuss the future of Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. Later that year, after Churchill’s surprise election defeat, Truman invited him to speak at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Churchill gladly accepted and it was here that he delivered his famed “Iron Curtain” speech. During their years in power, a constant flow of both official and private correspondence was exchanged between the two. This relationship continued to flourish after Churchill’s retirement in 1955.
It was over lunch at No. 10 Downing Street in June 1951 that Marrakech was presented to the Truman family. Churchill had invited Truman’s daughter Margaret to visit him while she was in town and on meeting he asked her if she would do him the honour of taking the painting back to her father when she returned home. Margaret of course was delighted to assist and indeed carried the painting when she sailed back to New York. On handing the picture to her father on her arrival at the family home in Independence, MO, President Truman hung the painting on the wall, where it would remain until his death in 1972. After this, the painting hung in Margaret’s New York apartment.
To accompany his gift, Churchill wrote to Truman: “This picture was hung in the Academy last year, and it is about as presentable as anything I can produce. It shows the beautiful panorama of the Atlas Mountains in Marrakech. This is the view I persuaded your predecessor [President Roosevelt] to see before he left North Africa after the Casablanca Conference [in 1943]. He was carried to the top of a high tower, and a magnificent sunset was duly in attendance.”
On receipt of the work, Truman replied: “I can’t find words adequate to express my appreciation of the beautiful picture of the Atlas Mountains painted by you. I shall treasure the picture as long as I live and it will be one of the most valued possessions I will be able to leave to Margaret when I pass on.”
Painted circa 1948, Marrakech takes as its subject one of Churchill’s favourite painting locations; he was entranced by the exotic, desert landscape of Morocco and the climate, colour and light of the country. He had been familiar with Morocco since the mid 1920s but he prized the country most dearly for being the location of the 1943 Casablanca Conference and many of his Moroccan landscapes appear to be closely linked with Anglo-American solidarity and affection.
Marrakech captures a view over the Moroccan city incorporating its most famous landmarks, the tower of the Koutoubia Mosque in the foreground and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the distance. The work shows remarkable similarities to an earlier view of the city that dates from 1943, which Churchill executed shortly after the Casablanca Conference. This earlier scene was the only picture that he felt able to paint during the Second World War when he was otherwise totally absorbed – physically, mentally and emotionally – and Churchill gave this painting to President Roosevelt, whom he insisted on taking to Marrakech after the Conference for them both to enjoy the spectacle of the sun setting on the snow of the Atlas Mountains. Both paintings adopt the typical Moroccan palette of sandy pinks and ochres contrasting with the brilliant blue of the desert sky. Churchill’s Morocco scenes are widely regarded as amongst his most successful works.
Frances Christie, specialist in the 20th Century British Art department, comments: “The rise of Churchill through the art market over the past few years has been remarkable and we are thrilled to be bringing another of his most important and accomplished works to the saleroom at a time when interest in his amazing ‘pastime’ is stronger than ever. Not only does Marrakech have extraordinary provenance, it is also a superb example of Churchill at his very best and it shows a subject which was very dear to his heart.”