Churchill and his portrait

Winston Chruchill

“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.

11 thoughts on “Churchill and his portrait

  1. My Great-Grandfather certainly had a way with words.

    The painting was without a doubt one of the greatest insults to an international hero who had, in his lifetime, saved the world from the worst kind of evil we have ever faced in our history.

    Any artist, no matter how amature, knows that you never paint a portrait depicting the truth. But even is Sutherland didn’t know this, he certainly knew you don’t paint a lie.

    The painting was destroyed, and rightly so. Sutherland should have been ashamed to have taken the money from the tax-payers for such a monstrous waste of expensive canvass and paints.

    • It’s a shame it was destroyed although the fact that Clementine did so makes me smile. I think the painting was a testament to Sir Winston Churchill’s legacy of fearlessness and tenacity in the face of age, a wonderful reflection of a noble soul. It projected both complexity and immortality. It has the distinct air of “never despair” and “never give up”. The painting was unconventional but brilliant as was the man.

  2. Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Bless you

  3. i liked it but I see their point it should have shown more of his heroic side but it wasn’t just him you know it was all of the allies pulling together to fight evil it was still good

  4. You paint what you see. That is how the artist saw him. If they wanted to make a lie they should have hired someone else. I admire the artist for being truthful to his craft. Churchill was a colonialist, imperialist demagogue. I guess he wanted to have a halo over his head in the painting.

  5. Artist are unique professionals. I find it refreshing that Sutherland saw and painted the truth. This painting does not take anything away from the great man Churchill was, just who he was at the time of the portrait. Who wouldn’t be exhausted from spending more than half of his life fighting to save his nation and the world! “Long live Churchill and Sutherland”

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