Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Winston Churchill by Yousef Karsh

with 75 comments


It was one of the most famous portraits ever made. Some say it is the most reproduced image in history. It was on the cover of LIFE magazine when WWII ended. The photo was taken by one of the most famous portrait photographers, Yousef Karsh–known as Karsh of Ottawa–on 30 December, 1941, after Churchill gave a speech to Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa. [On the 60th anniversary of that famous speech, Canada honored Karsh and Churchill with a commemorative stamp featuring above photo.]

Karsh was hired by the Canadian government to do this portrait and knew he would have very little time to make the picture. He began by researching Churchill, taking notes on all of the prime minister’s habits, quirks, attitudes and tendencies. When he finally got Churchill seated in the chair, with lights blazing, Churchill snapped “You have two minutes. And that’s it, two minutes.” The truth was that Churchill was angry that he had not been told he was to be photographed; he lit a fresh cigar and puffed mischievously.

Karsh asked Churchill to remove the cigar in his mouth, but Churchill refused. Karsh walked up to Churchill supposedly to get a light level and casually pulled the signature cigar from the lips of Churchill and walked back toward his camera. As he walked he clicked his camera remote, capturing the ‘determined’ look on Churchill’s face, which was in fact a reflection of his indignantcy. Karsh recounted: “I stepped toward him and without premeditation, but ever so respectfully, I said, ‘Forgive me, Sir’ and plucked the cigar out of his mouth. By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me. It was at that instant I took the photograph. The silence was deafening. Then Mr Churchill, smiling benignly, said, ‘You may take another one.’ He walked toward me, shook my hand and said, ‘You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.'”

The next photo Karsh took, where Churchill was smiling, was less memorable:


See Karsh’s famous portrait photos here. Also, follow me and Iconic Photos on Twitter here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 31, 2009 at 5:54 am

75 Responses

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  1. A Sheer Masterpiece!


    August 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm

  2. taken in december 1941 in ottawa. in fact there were three pictures . the first one called the roaring lion was not very liked by his wife clementine. but it depicts churchill in a defiant mood.


    October 15, 2009 at 5:05 pm

  3. […] vagyok. Tudtad pl. hogy a jobb oldalt látható (egyértelműen történelmi jelentőségű) képek Churchill azért vág ilyen morcos képet, mert a fotós (Yousef Karsh) 1 másodperccel korábban egy meglepő mozdulattal kivette a […]

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  5. […] the images are sometimes the most fascinating part. A few of my favorites: Yousef Karsh’s Winston Churchill portrait, Harold Edgerton’s bullet going through an apple, and probably most of all, Johnny Cash being […]

  6. The “less memorable” photo of Churchill smiling was Karsh’s favourite.

    BF Bastardo

    February 10, 2010 at 1:09 am

  7. where can i buy a copy of this? do they make these into posters?


    July 26, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    • Try the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario! Karsh donated most of his stuff to the archives before dying at over 90. Trivia: the last portrait (done as a double sitting) was commissioned (and carried out) for former President Bill Clinton and his wife former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On a personal
      note, I am looking for a poster sized photo of the Reverend Martin Luther King. In light lettering, it has, printed on the surface his profound ” I Have a Dream” speech. That speech is a classic in the historical
      context in which it was given!

      Mr. Lynn Stevens

      August 7, 2013 at 7:22 am

  8. To gaze at this magnificent portrait is to
    understand a picture being worth a thousand words.

    Marc Savoy

    July 28, 2010 at 6:30 pm

  9. by a karsh book . you will get this picture in many of them . one called karsh portaits has this .


    July 29, 2010 at 5:49 pm

  10. […] This is the famous portrait photo taken by Karsh. It comes with a story:  Winston Churchill by Yousef Karsh […]

  11. […] Karsh literally took it away to capture Churchill’s combative nature. If he were still alive Churchill would probably have […]

  12. I too find the less memorable photograph more appealing than the other. It is appealing and warm while the other is so intense. I suppose that is why the other is more known.


    February 2, 2011 at 2:49 am

  13. […] and the greatest photo of this man, a photo taken by Karsh, plus the story of this photo is H E R E. […]

  14. What wonderful pictures of me! I remember that day like it was just yesterday. Good old Canada. Yousef Karsh was a phenomenal artist.

    Winston Churchill

    February 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm

  15. karsh of course snatched the cigar from churchill mouth . hence the title rOARING LION


    February 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm

  16. These images are so striking and iconic. However I much prefer the ‘bulldog attitude’ of the first image. Karsh has managed to convey such a powerful and determined leader all through the expressions on Churchill’s face.


    March 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm

  17. […] Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway and Audrey Hepburn among many. The story behind  Sir Winston Churchill’s portrait is rather interesting. The photographer told the story […]

  18. […] This 1941 photo by Yousuf Karsh is the most famous shot of Winston Churchill, and one of my favorite pictures of all time. The story of how Yousuf got the shot is very impressive…read it here. […]

  19. Wonderful story and magnificent photos. The black and white is so much more powerful than colour somehow…
    Another blogger pointed me to this great post, as I’ve just written a blog on Churchill, called ‘A Much Maligned Hero’, in case you’re interested: : http://www.valeriedavies.com


    January 12, 2013 at 6:18 am

    • I don’t think he is ‘much maligned’ at all. In fact I think history has been far too kind to him. He wasn’t always a hero and was in fact, a mass murderer. Among many atrocities, Churchill was the first person to gas the Kurds – on mass saying “I do not understand this sqeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.”


      January 21, 2013 at 4:40 am

      • Shocking comment I agree… I was saying maligned in the sense that he was not autistic, alcoholic etc
        And we still needed someone – however flawed – to do what he did to hold the world together in the face of the Nazi terror – there Was no-one else. Everyone had had to flee – mostly to England….and America didn’t want to join the fight until the Japanese forced her to.
        Did you read my story?


        January 21, 2013 at 4:53 am

  20. […] 1941. It wasn’t Karsh’s favorite shot of Churchill, though – that honor goes to a second photo that was taken immediately afterwards, in which Churchill was […]

  21. Reblogged this on PhoPort.

    Jerry Stolarski

    January 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    • churchill saw through hitler from the beginning . he saved western civilisation . he was no warmonger but was not afraid of war either .


      January 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      • Now we need him to save western civilization again.

        Jerry Stolarski

        January 21, 2013 at 5:01 pm

  22. […] was elected in part because of portrait photography. There’s also not a soul who hasn’t seen Yousef Karsh’s image of Winston Churchill post World War II and not been affected by it. Throughout my blog I’m going to be speaking about […]

  23. beautiful story 🙂


    March 6, 2013 at 7:12 am

  24. Reblogged this on batmuffin.


    March 6, 2013 at 7:38 am

  25. […] Read More: Winston Churchill by Yousef Karsh […]

  26. Now this looks interesting. Keep up the good work. Visit Proposal Template Software

  27. Goes to show how even racist genocidal bigots can look good in photos and everyone loves them!


    Sameer (@rajadnya)

    March 6, 2013 at 10:10 am

    • This isn’t an article about Churchill. This is an article about art- specifically photography. Perhaps if instead of climbing on a soapbox at every possible opportunity, people like you (with agendas) chose appropriate moments, they wouldn’t dilute their own message.
      And before you pull out the self-righteousness, my paternal bloodline with the sole exception of my grandfather was slaughtered in a Krakow ghetto in ’42.


      March 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      • winston along with a few others saved westrern civilisation . from the bane of hitler this is the most important .


        March 6, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    • Probably best if you read your history and checked your full facts first. Churchill wasn’t perfect, and he had a questionable past politically, but he stood up AGAINST racist, genocidal bigots and thugs when it mattered, and gave refuge to many people who would have been exterminated by the Nazi regime. If he was as you claimed, we as a nation under Churchill would have joined the war against the Nazis as Hitler wanted, not fought them, and certainly not given their victims refuge. I only speak as one whose parents had first hand experience, rather than taking my opinions from a book summary on Amazon.

      Jon B

      June 17, 2013 at 1:06 am

  28. […] winston churchill, yousef took the cigar straight from churchill’s mouth and took the photo. this was the […]

  29. i never understood why everyone says Churchill looks so grumpy in this photo (the first, famous one). He has a gleam in his eyes, ahint of a cheeky smile and looks pretty affable I think.


    March 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm

  30. they were four more pics taken on this day . two with mckenzie king followed . winston saved civilisation from the bane of hitler .


    March 6, 2013 at 6:21 pm

  31. […] For the full story visit Iconic Photos […]

  32. […] Iconic Photos and The Boston Public […]

  33. Reblogged this on Rawshooter and commented:
    Interesting story behind undoubtedly a very iconic portrait.

    Mika Karhulahti

    March 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm

  34. […] Source […]

  35. […] Source : Iconic Image Blog […]

  36. Could you tell me where I could find a bibliografical content of what you write here? I’m making a research and i want to read more about Karsh work. Thank you.


    June 1, 2013 at 11:37 am

  37. […] was Jean Sibelius, the reclusive Finnish composer, of whom Karsh had always wanted to take a photo. Karsh was already famous in the English-speaking world, but not well-known on the continent, and he requested the oilman to make arrangements for him to […]

  38. […] was Jean Sibelius, the reclusive Finnish composer, of whom Karsh had always wanted to take a photo. Karsh was already famous in the English-speaking world, but not well-known on the continent, and he requested the oilman to make arrangements for him to […]

  39. […] example, legendary portrait photographer Yousef Karsh is featured on the site with his picture of Sir Winston Churchill. The text explains how Karsh annoyed Churchill in order to capture the spirit of indigence and […]

  40. Cool!!!


    November 16, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    • after the some chicken some neck speech . three or four others pics were taken two with mackenzie king . canada premier .


      November 16, 2013 at 5:42 pm

  41. […] 1) El fotógrafo Yousef Karsh le iba a tomar una foto a Winston Churchill. Sin embargo, Yousef, antes de fotografiarle, se acercó y le quitó directamente el puro de la boca a Churchill. Su malestar quedó reflejado en la foto. Fuente […]

  42. […] Notably missing from the essay was the photo that started it all — Churchill’s growling portrait from 1941. […]

  43. […] a baby is a screaming, crying, unreasonable being. Even the attractive ones uncannily resemble Winston Churchill or Curly from the Three […]

  44. […] [image credits: Iconic Photos] […]

  45. […] 1. When photographer Yousef Karsh took a photo of Winston Churchill, Yousef took the cigar straight from Churchill’s mouth and took the above photo and hence the grumpy result. – Source […]

  46. […] e imágenes: Iconic Photos, Petapixel, […]

  47. […] In His Iconic Portrait, Winston Churchill is Scowling Over a Lost Cigar; Boston Public Library; Iconic Photos: Winston Churchill by Yousef Karsh; y Smithsonian: The Day Wiston Churchill Lost his […]

  48. […] Karsh, the portraitist who can be said to have made the definitive images of Winston Churchill, Audrey Hepburn, JFK, Ernest Hemingway, and countless other notables, said “within every man […]

  49. […] prints from his students, prints of his own wonderful images, numerous awards and even a signed Karsh of Winston Churchill, but the most poignant object for me was a paperweight on the coffee table. The paperweight was […]

  50. […] stuck in the side of the mouth? Close, but (literally) no cigar. The picture Schama ends with is Yousuf Karsh’s famous photograph, a portrait that says, “over and over, we will never surrender”. Or appears to say, because in […]

  51. […] Sir Winston Churchill posando para Yousef Karsh (fuente) […]

  52. […] beyond comparison for fear of violating Godwin’s Law, and in our league of national heroes, Churchill’s indignant wartime glare — provoked by a wily picture journalist snatching his cigar from his hand – remains […]

  53. […] Churchill by Yousef Karsh (2009) Available at: https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/winston-churchill-by-yousef-karsh/ (Accessed: 3 May […]

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  57. There’s a snake in my boooot

    Shano pedophile

    June 28, 2017 at 6:34 am

  58. Churchill Portrait – by Yousuf Karsh

    Shano pedophile

    June 28, 2017 at 6:55 am

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