There is the tremendous orator and pugnacious, invincible warrior we know… And then, there is this ‘other’ Winston Churchill – the restless, meditative persona forever seeking retreat and a place of solitude to paint like a demon. He threw himself into the act because it absorbed him and demanded complete concentration. It also offered challenges unbeknownst to him as a writer or public orator. For as much as his stirring rhetoric was capable of wielding the power to beguile and sway and turn public opinion, a representational painting stands on its own, stripped of artifice or deception. These paintings represent a window to a brilliant man engaged pleasurably in his most unguarded moments.
Historians will invariably point to painting as the restorative elixir that allowed the high-strung firebrand to separate from a pressured life full of gloom, worry, and angst. And there is truth in that. Painting is, as he once famously remarked, ‘like taking a paint box off on a joyride, to lift the blood and tears of the morning. If it weren’t for painting, I couldn’t bear the strain of the things.”
He painted over 500 works, an amazing counterpoint to that ‘other’ mythologized Winston Churchill for whom we light a candle of gratitude. Contrast the sensitive handling of these paintings with his reputation as a warrior and war hero and we plumb yet another layer of his character and personality. Yet we also sense a consistent bearing evident in the willful stabbing and slashing at the canvas with his paint laded brush– evidence he fully embraced the physicality of painting in oils.
Several of these works were painted in the 1930s when he left miserable English winters to the less fortunate and traveled to the South of France. The light and color here lifted his mood as much as his palette. It became his playground paradise. Here, and in Morocco and Marrakesh he became completely absorbed by the intense light and saturated color. From these places and climes, he took his cues from the impressionists and post-impressionists he admired.
Appreciation for Churchill’s love of art completes an appreciation for the man. And if you can, imagine the marvelous time he had at the easel ‘fighting the painting into submission’ (as his granddaughter would say), puffing away on his cigar and forgetting the cares of the world. For a man upon whose shoulders the fate of the world may well have rested, there is plenty of evidence he was never happier or more content.