Churchill Hated This Portrait. Now You Can Buy It

Sotheby's to auction 1954 painting made in preparation for a larger work
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 16, 2024 3:16 PM CDT
Churchill Hated This Portrait. Now You Can Buy It
A Sotheby's staffer displays a portrait of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, painted by Graham Sutherland in 1954.   (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

A portrait of Winston Churchill by an artist whose work the British leader loathed went on display Tuesday at Churchill's birthplace ahead of an auction in June. The painting by modernist artist Graham Sutherland was made in preparation for a larger portrait that Churchill hated and was later destroyed—an episode recounted in the TV series The Crown, per the AP. The surviving oil-on-canvas study shows Churchill's head in profile against a dark background. It is expected to sell for between 500,000 pounds and 800,000 pounds ($622,000 and $995,000) at Sotheby's in London on June 6.

Sutherland was commissioned by the Houses of Parliament to paint Churchill to mark his 80th birthday in 1954. The full-length portrait was unveiled in Parliament that year, with Churchill calling it, with a smirk, "a remarkable example of modern art." Churchill is said to have complained that the painting "makes me look half-witted, which I ain't." It was delivered to his home and never seen again. The Churchill family disclosed years later that it had been destroyed.

Andre Zlattinger, Sotheby's head of modern British and Irish art, said that in the surviving study, "Churchill is caught in a moment of absent-minded thoughtfulness, and together with the backstory of its creation, it gives the impression of a man truly concerned with his image." Sotheby's put the painting on public display inside the room where Churchill was born 150 years ago at Blenheim Palace, a country mansion 60 miles northwest of London. It will go on show at Sotheby's offices in New York May 3-16 and London May 25-June 5.

(More Winston Churchill stories.)

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