Churchill and his portrait
“A remarkable example of modern art” growled Churchill in the Westminster Hall when the grateful parliament presented him with a portrait for his 80th birthday in 1954, soliciting laughter from his audience, “It certainly combines force and candor,” the aging prime minister added.
Privately, he hated it. A painter himself, Churchill did not like the portrait by Graham Sutherland. Although not a vain man — he had just refused the elevation to the peerage as The Duke of London — Churchill wanted to sit for the portrait in his garter robes. The painting also, “makes me look half‐witted, which I ain’t,” he remarked.
More importantly, it had depicted him as a tired done man; Churchill had his second stroke the previous year — the full extent of which he kept from the public and from Parliament, who were told that the prime minister was suffering from exhaustion — and saw this ailment reflected by Sutherland’s brush.
The parliament greatly feared his death, and by 1954, already plans were quietly underway for a state funeral; the painting was meant to be a memorial in that way too — to hang in perpetuity in Westminster Abbey after the Prime Minister’s death. In sulk, Churchill instead took it to his country estate in Chartwell, where it promptly went into the cellars, later to be destroyed by his wife Clementine.