Friday, October 26, 2007

The Churchill Series – Oct. 26, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Folks, my plan was to continue in this post commentary concerning a Churchill memorandum contained in yesterday’s post.

I’m changing the plan. Here’s why:

The Oct. 16 Series post concerned a painting Churchill had given President Harry Truman in 1951. Truman left the painting to his daughter Margaret. Through her family, Margaret has just placed the painting with Sotheby’s for auction Dec. 13.

What follows is first, the Oct. 16 post; then, the auction story that’s just appeared at TIMESONLINE; and last, a link to a color picture of the painting.

Here’s the Oct. 16 post:

On June 3, 1951 Churchill, then 76, had as his luncheon guests at Chartwell the American Ambassador, Walter Gifford, and President Truman’s daughter, Margaret, to whom he gave a painting for the President.

In Never Despair (Houghton Mifflin& Co., 1988) Churchill’s biographer, Martin Gilbert, tells us some of what followed:

[Shortly thereafter Churchill wrote to “My dear Harry,”]

"This picture was hung in the [Royal] Academy last year, and is about as presentable as anything I can produce. It shows the beautiful panorama of the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech.

This is the view that I persuaded your predecessor to see before he left North Africa after the Casablanca Conference. He was carried to the top of a high tower, and a magnificent sunset was duly in attendance."

“I can’t find words adequate,” Truman replied, “to express my appreciation of the beautiful picture of the Atlas Mountains, painted by you. I shall treasure that picture as long as I live and it will be one of the most valued possessions I will be able to leave to Margaret when I pass on.”(p. 615)
Truman, who greatly admired Churchill and had a keen sense of history, no doubt treasured the picture; and appreciated better than most that when he passed it to Margaret, he’d be leaving her a work with a priceless historical provenance.

But did he ever think the painting today, if in good condition, would be worth well more than a million dollars as the prices of Churchill’s paintings at auctions continue to skyrocket?


“If it weren’t for painting, I couldn’t live, I couldn’t bear the strain of things,” Sir Winston Churchill once said. Now, one of the great statesman’s most important paintings has surfaced for the first time since he gave it to President Harry S. Truman more than half a century ago.

It was over lunch at 10 Downing Street in 1951 that Churchill presented Marrakesh, a vibrant image that captures the exotic colour and light of the Moroccan desert, as a gift to the US President.

Truman was overwhelmed, saying that he would treasure it as one of his “most valued possessions” and it has remained in the family ever since. But his daughter, Margaret Truman Daniel, is now selling it for financial reasons.

The painting, which dates from about 1948, will be the highlight of a sale of 20th-century British art at Sotheby’s in London on December 13. With its unbroken provenance to an important historical figure, its appearance on the open market is expected to attract strong interest from both collectors and historians.

Buyers may well ignore the £500,000 estimate, just as they ignored the £200,000 estimate in July when Sotheby’s auctioned Chartwell Landscape with Sheep, a view of Churchill’s home. That painting sold for £1 million – setting a new auction record, nearly double the previous figure for a Churchill painting.

Frances Christie, Sotheby’s specialist in the 20th Century British Art department, said that such prices for Churchill had emerged recently. “It is only in the past two years that he’s broken the £100,000barrier,” she said.

Although Marrakesh, as a Moroccan subject, is comparable in colours and tones to View of Tinherir, which sold in December for £612,800, this work is arguably superior in both composition and provenance.

Here’s a link to a picture of the painting that is larger than the one accompanying the TIMESONLINE story.

And here’s wishing you a very nice weekend. Ours will be wet and that’s very good. We need the rain.

I hope to see you Monday.