Winston Churchill’s Paintings: Great Statesman, Surprisingly Good Artist

Marlborough Tapestries at Blenheim

Win­ston Churchill is one of those colos­sal fig­ures who read­i­ly qual­i­fies for that unfash­ion­able moniker of The Great Man of His­to­ry. This was a guy who warned of Hitler’s threat long before it seemed polite to do so. Through his polit­i­cal acu­men and bril­liant ora­to­ry skills, the two-time prime min­is­ter ral­lied his demor­al­ized coun­try to face down the mas­sive, seem­ing­ly unstop­pable Ger­man army. Beyond that, he won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture, for, among oth­er works, his six vol­ume series on the Sec­ond World War. And, on top of all that, Churchill was also a pas­sion­ate painter. And unlike George W. Bush’s touch­ing­ly awk­ward attempts, Churchill’s paint­ings were actu­al­ly pret­ty good. You can see a few above and below and even more here. (Click on the images to view them in a larg­er for­mat.)

pont au gard

For Churchill, paint­ing was the best way to men­tal­ly step away from what had to be a titan­i­cal­ly stress­ful job. “Paint­ing is com­plete as a dis­trac­tion,” he wrote in 1948. “I know of noth­ing which, with­out exhaust­ing the body, more entire­ly absorbs the mind. What­ev­er the wor­ries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the pic­ture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the men­tal screen.”

Churchill turned to paint­ing at a low point in his life. After an inva­sion of Gal­lipoli, which he in part orches­trat­ed, went spec­tac­u­lar­ly wrong in 1915, he resigned from his gov­ern­ment posi­tion (First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty) in dis­grace. “I had great anx­i­ety and no means of reliev­ing it,” he wrote. Then he dis­cov­ered the joys of putting paint to can­vas. Over the next 48 years, he cranked out some 500 paint­ings, most­ly land­scapes. Oil was his pre­ferred medi­um and, judg­ing from his oeu­vre, Claude Mon­et, Vin­cent Van Gogh and William Turn­er were big influ­ences. “When I get to heav­en I mean to spend a con­sid­er­able por­tion of my first mil­lion years in paint­ing,” he wrote. “And so get to the bot­tom of the sub­ject.”

The Harbour at St. Jean Cap Ferrat

So how good was he? Not­ed Eng­lish artist and roy­al por­traitist Sir Oswald Bir­ley was quite impressed by the Prime Minister’s abil­i­ties. “If Churchill had giv­en the time to art that he has giv­en to pol­i­tics, he would have been by all odds the world’s great­est painter.” Of course, Bir­ley was also reg­u­lar­ly employed by Churchill, so you might want to take that state­ment with a grain of salt. David Coombs, who co-authored the book Sir Win­ston Churchill: His Life and His Paint­ings, offered a more even-hand­ed assess­ment. “When he’s very good, he’s very, very good, but some­times, he’s hor­rid.”

Top: Marl­bor­ough Tapes­tries at Blenheim

Mid­dle: Pont du Gard

Bot­tom: The Har­bour at St. Jean Cap Fer­rat

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Col­or Footage of Win­ston Churchill’s Funer­al in 1965

Ani­mat­ed: Win­ston Churchill’s Top 10 Say­ings About Fail­ure, Courage, Set­backs, Haters & Suc­cess

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.