Winston Churchill hated his portrait – and now it’s up for auction


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A portrait of Winston Churchill by an artist whose work the British leader loathed went on display yesterday (Tuesday 16 April) 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 which was later destroyed.

Its fate was recreated with poetic license in an episode of The Crown in which Churchill’s wife, Clementine, watches the painting go up in flames.

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 and £800,000 (€586,000 – €938,000) at Sotheby’s in London on 6 June.

A member of staff from Sotheby’s poses for the media with a portrait of the iconic former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, painted by Graham Sutherland in 1954

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.

A member of staff from Sotheby’s poses with the portrait

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.”

The portrait Churchill hated

Sotheby’s put the picture on public display inside the room where Churchill was born 150 years ago at Blenheim Palace, a country mansion 100 kilometers northwest of London. Visitors can see it there until Sunday (21 April).

**The painting will go on show at Sotheby’s offices in New York on 3 May until 16 May, and then heads to London from 25 May – 5 June. **

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