KEEPING WATCH OVER SIR WINSTON'S PAINTINGS
"I knew he was a remarkable man, but this magical side, as a painter, came as a
surprise to me."
- Minnie Churchill
In London, they keep Winston Churchill's
war rooms from World War II just as they were during his finest hour. At Churchill
College Cambridge, they have archived his papers and photographs. But at the Churchill
Heritage, they watch over a special part of Sir Winston Churchill's history and
his heart: his paintings.
"Many people don't realize that Winston Churchill's greatest pastime
was painting," says Minnie S. Churchill, the director of Churchill Heritage. "He
once wrote: ‘Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour,
peace and hope, will keep them company to the end, or almost to the end, of the
Tracking down the whereabouts of Sir Winston's paintings has been Minnie's
focus for the past six years as the collaborator, with David Coombs, on the monumental
new book, Sir Winston Churchill: His Life and His Paintings.
The only painting by Sir
Winston of his wife, Clementine, is on loan from Minnie to the National Trust. It
hangs in Lady Churchill's sitting room at Chartwell. Sir Winston painted it from
a photograph taken at the launching of HMS Indomitable. He worked from
a projected image of the photo - which was inadvertently put into the projector
the wrong way around.
Sir Winston was a prodigious painter, producing more than 500 oils and
exhibiting at London's prestigious Royal Academy. He gave a number of his canvases
away - to family members, friends and staff (including Grace Hamblin, his devoted
secretary), and world leaders (FDR, Dwight Eisenhower and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
II among them). Grace Hamblin's painting, for example, had found its way from Westerham,
next door to Churchill's country estate in Kent, to the U.S. It was one of many
of his delightful "daubs," as Churchill referred to his paintings, that ended up
in America. His paintings can also be found in galleries and private collections
throughout the world. The greatest collection of his paintings is at Chartwell,
his beloved country estate in Kent, which the National Trust now owns. Many are
exhibited in the studio he built, indulging another passion of his - bricklaying.
In the summer of 1963, when Minnie first visited Chartwell, the dining
room was filled with hundreds of Sir Winston's paintings. "I knelt down and started
looking through them, and my first
reaction was: ‘These are absolutely wonderful'," Minnie recalls. "I knew
he was a remarkable man, but this magical side, as a painter, came as a complete
surprise to me. The paintings were so beautiful, and exhibited such a private insight
into this great man's life."
Many of his paintings are exhibited
in the studio he built, indulging another passion of his - bricklaying.
Minnie, who in 1964 became Sir Winston's granddaughter-in-law,
owns four of these paintings. The one she treasures most is the only portrait Sir
Winston painted of his wife, Clementine. "This painting was painted by my husband"
charming message penned on the back and signed by Clementine S. Churchill.
Minnie has loaned the painting to Chartwell, where it hangs in Lady Churchill's
sitting room, opposite the famous painting of Sir Winston by Sir Oswald Birley.
"When you tour Chartwell," says Minnie, "you see many of his paintings, which illustrate
in glorious colors so much of his life and his travels."
painting that Minnie owns features a coastal scene near Cap D'Ail in France. When
Minnie's uncle, Prince Jean Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge, came to visit her and saw
the painting, he placed the scene immediately - the house in the painting was
his. Admiring the paintings with Minnie is her cairn terrier, Tilly.
Minnie's collaboration with David Coombs on this book was, she says,
a way to honor the memory of a great man who was also a fine painter. "It was a
journey for me," she says, "a way to give something back."
Churchill knew something about rewarding journeys, too. In his Painting
as a Pastime, he wrote: "Painting is a companion with whom one may hope to
walk a great part of life's journey." With the publication of Sir Winston Churchill:
His Life and His Paintings, that journey will now be part of history.