Three Major Artworks by Winston Churchill Hit the Auction Block at Christie’s
Additional pieces by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Jack Butler Yates are set to appear in the upcoming Modern British Art Evening Sale
While works by late British prime minister Winston Churchill come up for sale somewhat regularly, it’s rare to have three in one auction. And for all of the paintings to have remarkable ties to history is even more significant. But come March 1, when Christie’s opens its Modern British Art Evening Sale, among the 34 lots will be two paintings done in Churchill’s beloved Marrakech as well as a rare London scene.
“Each of the paintings has a story around it, and that’s what’s so important with Churchill,” says Nick Orchard, head of Modern British Art at Christie’s. “That’s why Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque (1943) is arguably the most important painting he ever produced.”
Churchill never sold any works during his lifetime, instead choosing to gift them to family, friends, and other acquaintances who mattered to him. “The historical significance of who he gave them to matters quite a lot,” Orchard tells Galerie. The only artwork done by the prime minister during World War II, Koutoubia Mosque was presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt after he and Churchill had spent time together in Marrakech. The work, emblematic of the bond between Great Britain and America, is expected to fetch between £1.5 million and £2.5 million during the sale and is being offered by the Jolie Family Collection.
One painting did, however, sell during Churchill’s lifetime—his 1927 work St. Paul’s Churchyard, which stands out not only for being just one of only three known views he captured of London, but also for its amusing backstory. The cityscape was made when Churchill was staying with King George V and Queen Mary at their home in Balmoral, Scotland. Her Majesty was organizing a charity auction, and the king suggested Churchill donate it to the sale. “Of course, if the king asks you do to something, you can’t say no,” explains Orchard of the painting, which has remained in the same family since 1927 and is estimated to fetch between £200,000 and £300,000.
Churchill started painting at around age 40 and produced around 500 works over his lifetime. The prime minister benefitted from close relationships with leading British artists of the time such as Sir John Lavery and Walter Richard Sickert, who helped him develop his talent. “He himself said that as an artist, he was just an amateur. Painting was purely a pastime. He took it up at a low point in his life, and it helped him through some dark days,” says Orchard. “He was influenced by Impressionism and Post Impressionism, whether it’s the colors he used or just the fluidity of his style. He professed, I think particularly because of his love for North Africa, a passion for the work of Matisse as well. And he painted a lot of his work en plein air—that’s absolutely an influence of the Impressionists.”
Also included in Christie’s Modern British Art Evening Sale is a work by Lavery that has ties to present-day pop culture. Entitled The Viscountess Castlerosse, Palm Springs, the informal portrait captures Lady Doris Castlerosse (née Delevingne), a leggy high-society figure who is also the great-aunt of current It girls Poppy and Cara Delevinge. “The intriguing factor about it—and this has only just come to light in the process of preparing for the sale—is that the figure on the side, which has been thought for decades to be her brother, is actually her and that Lavery painted her legs a second time,” details Orchard. “Its a clever device paying tribute to these famous legs.”
Also coming to the block are number of sculptures, which became a popular medium in Britain following WWII. “You can lay that primarily at the feet of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth—they created the atmosphere to encourage other sculptors,” says Orchard. Pieces by Hepworth and those she influenced, like Lynn Chadwick and Barry Flanagan, will go under the hammer, however it’s Moore’s 1952 bronze Maquette for King and Queen that is arguably the sale’s most significant and is estimated to bring £750,000 to £1 million. “This is the only sculpture he produced that is a man and woman seated side by side. Many of the art critics of the time felt the maquette was more successful than the full-scale work he produced.”
Rounding out the catalog are pieces by Laurence Stephen Lowry, Ben Nicholson, and Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats, the brother of the famous poet William Butler Yeats, who created a painting style all his own. With thick impasto, Until We Meet Again is a lyrical composition of a man and his horse. “It’s a particularly beautiful painting,” says Orchard. “You might argue its poignant in the current moment, but it’s a lovely work and for me is one of the highlights of the auction.”