Rare Churchill Portrait Study to Be Auctioned After Public Display

A rare portrait study of Winston Churchill, which he famously had destroyed, is expected to sell for up to £800,000 at auction. The intimate study offers a glimpse into Churchill's complex relationship with his image and legacy.

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Ebenezer Mensah
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Rare Churchill Portrait Study to Be Auctioned After Public Display

Rare Churchill Portrait Study to Be Auctioned After Public Display

A rare study for a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, which the former British Prime Minister famously had destroyed, is expected to sell for up to £800,000 at auction in June 2024. The painting, created by artist Graham Sutherland in September 1954, was a preparatory work for a final portrait commissioned by the Houses of Parliament to mark Churchill's 80th birthday.

Churchill strongly disliked the completed portrait, describing it as 'filthy and malignant' and complaining that it made him 'look half-witted.' The final painting was later destroyed on Churchill's wishes, an event dramatized in the Netflix series "The Crown." However, this intimate study version, which focuses on Churchill's head and shoulders, survived and has remained in private hands for decades.

The oil-on-canvas study, measuring 40 by 30 centimeters, shows a pensive Churchill in profile against a dark background. It offers a rare glimpse of what Sotheby's auction house describes as the wartime leader's 'less austere and gentler side.' Art historian and Sutherland expert Andrew Wheatcroft called the work "a remarkable survival" and "in all likelihood, the best portrait of Churchill painted from life."

Why this matters: The upcoming auction of this rare Churchill portrait study is seen as a unique opportunity for collectors and history enthusiasts to acquire a significant piece of art history. The painting's intimate portrayal and its connection to the famously destroyed final portrait make it a compelling artifact that sheds light on Churchill's complex relationship with his image and legacy.

Before the auction on June 6, the portrait study will be exhibited at Churchill's birthplace, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, from April 13-16. It will then be shown at Sotheby's galleries in New York in early May and London in late May. The pre-sale estimate for the painting is between £500,000 and £800,000 (around $622,000 to $995,000).

"It is an honor to offer this rare portrait study as part of our Modern & Post-War British Art sale," said Frances Christie, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby's UK & Ireland. "The work provides a fascinating insight into the creation of one of the most famous portraits of the 20th century and the tensions between artist and sitter."

Key Takeaways

  • Rare study of Churchill portrait by Sutherland to sell for up to £800k in 2024.
  • Churchill strongly disliked the final portrait, which was later destroyed on his wishes.
  • The study offers a rare glimpse of Churchill's "less austere and gentler side".
  • The portrait study will be exhibited at Blenheim Palace before the June 2024 auction.
  • The pre-sale estimate for the painting is between £500,000 and £800,000.