Enigmatic Churchill Portrait Set for Auction at Sotheby’s June 6


In a room rife with historical resonance at the Blenheim Palace, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s birthplace situated nearly 60 miles northwest of London, a remarkable portrait of the late leader took center stage this Tuesday. The oil-on-canvas piece, depicting a thoughtful, somewhat somber Churchill absorbed in a rare moment of introspection against a shadowy backdrop, now awaits the scrutinizing gaze of art enthusiasts and Churchill aficionados alike.

The hand that breathed life into this emotionally evocative depiction belonged to modernist artist Graham Sutherland. However, there was a tangled tale of animosity and disdain tangled between the artist and his distinguished subject. Crafted ahead of a larger commission for Britain’s Houses of Parliament in 1954, which marked Churchill’s 80th birthday, the preparatory study is speculated to command a price tag between £500,000 and £800,000 (roughly $622,000 and $995,000) when it is auctioned off at Sotheby’s in London come June 6.

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The larger portrait that the study eventually materialized into met an ignominious fate as, much to Churchill’s chagrin, it seemed to portray him as, in his own words, “half-witted.” With a veiled smirk and a carefully chosen phrase, Churchill labeled it as a “remarkable example of modern art” during the portrait’s controversial unveiling session in Parliament. Unfortunately, the full-length artwork was soon relegated to the annals of oblivion, having been reportedly destroyed by Churchill’s family, much like a forbidden chapter sealed with lead.

Characterizing the lingering piece, Andre Zlattinger, Sotheby’s head of modern British and Irish art, stated how the framed semblance captured an “absent-minded thoughtfulness” in Churchill, which, when compounded by the creation’s intricate layered history, presented an intriguing image of a man anguished by the perception of his persona.

Those desiring a closer inspection of this enigmatic historical relic can embark on a journey back in time to Blenheim Palace, where it will reside until Sunday following its public display, a mere 150 years after Churchill himself first breathed within its walls. Continuing on its transcontinental exhibition, the picture preview will next grace eager crowds at Sotheby’s offices in New York from May 3-16 and subsequently in London from May 25-June 5