Winston Churchill Made Paintings

When He Was not Making History, Winston Churchill Made Paintings

At the age of 40, Sir Winston Churchill found himself at a career low: After the World War I attack he ordered Gallipoli, Turkey, got horrifically awry, he was demoted from his role as Lord of the Admiralty in May 1915. He resigned from his government post and became an officer in the army. Deflated or power and consumed with anxiety, he took up an unexpected new hobby: painting.

"Painting came to my rescue in a most trying time," Churchill would write later in the 1920s, in essays that would turn into a small book, Painting as a Pastime.

The hobby became, for the great British statesman, a source of delight and a respite from the stress of his career. He would eventually create over 550 paintings, crediting the practice with helping him to his visual acuity, powers of observation, and memory. The pastime would be flourish, and perhaps even aid him, as he continued his career as a world-renowned writer, orator, and political leader.

Churchill first picked up a brush on the advice of his sister-in-law, Lady Gwendoline Bertie, who was also a painter. In Painting as a Pastime he remembered his first attempt at making art one day in the countryside. Intimidated by the empty cloth that lay before him, he superimposed a light blue coat of paint on the surface to begin the sky and was soon interrupted by the arrival of the Glasgow painter Sir John Lavery and his wife Hazel. The latter exclaimed: "Painting, but where are you doubting?" She took a brush and made "big, bright stripes and oblique stripes blue on the absolutely shrunken canvas." Then Churchill wrote, "I grabbed the biggest brush and fell on my victim with Berserk anger ... I have never once again been in awe of a canvas. "

In the five decades that followed, Churchill was productive, mainly focused on landscapes and seascapes that were made in the open air. And despite his incessant claims that he was only an amateur, he developed an admirable flair for art.

"His approach was very simple: go outside and paint what you see," Dysan Sandys, the great-grandson of Churchill, told Artsy. "He did it for fun, he did not take his paintings very seriously."

Churchill was most fond of oils, because of their forgiving, flexible nature and bright colors - as well as the joy they radiated. "Just painting is very nice," he wrote. "The colors are wonderful to look at and wonderful to squeeze out."

He was known to erect his donkey outside to conquer the grounds of his country home in Kent, called Chartwell. (Now owned by the National Trust and open to visitors today, it still houses Churchill's preserved painting studio.) The politician-painter would also work during his travels to Egypt, Italy, Morocco and the south of France, among other locations.

While the inclination for outdoor subjects prevailed, he also tried still lifes and portraits with varying degrees of success. Churchill's works read as somewhat intimate snapshots, illustrating his favorite travel destinations, holidays and family members. In general, his subjects seem definitely positive and they communicate about the fun he has had by imagining them.

Churchill was largely autodidact, and adamant that formal art lessons were the play of a young person. The thing he and his like-minded amateur peers most needed, he thought, was a certain kind of passion.

"We can not aim for a masterpiece," he wrote. "We can satisfy ourselves with a pleasure ride in a color box, and for that Audacity is the only ticket."

Nevertheless, he wanted to improve his technique, and did so by taking directions from leading artists. He admired the work of impressionist and post-impressionist masters such as Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse and was even known to travel to the same locations where they had painted years ago, looking for the light and the proven country inspiring.

And although they are not really revolutionary, Churchill's paintings show us the great joy that painting can offer. Following the book of Matthew in the New Testament, Churchill may have said the best: "Happy are the painters, for they will not be lonely: Light and color, peace and hope, will keep them company until the end, or almost until the end of the day. "

Kind regards Pierre


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