‘Rare’ Churchill study goes on UK display ahead of auction

Winston Churchill's portrait is set to go under the hammer in June and is estimated to fetch about R19 million.

One of the best surviving portraits of Winston Churchill has gone on show in the former British prime minister’s birthplace, ahead of going under the hammer in June, Sotheby’s announced on Tuesday.

The painting of the World War II leader by artist Graham Sutherland, part of a commission to mark Churchill’s 80th birthday in 1954, is on display at Blenheim Palace in central England until Sunday.

The painting went on public view on Tuesday in the very room where Churchill was born in 1874 at the Oxfordshire home of the Churchill family, according to Sotheby’s.

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Churchill portrait auction

It will also go on display at the auction house’s New York premises for two weeks in early May and at its London showroom from 25 May 25 to 5 June, before being offered for sale on 6 June.

Sotheby’s estimates it will fetch up to £800 000 (about R19 million).

“Focused solely on the head, Sutherland pours his energies into a dextrous, painterly analysis of the man during an incomparably challenging period of his life,” the auctioneers said.

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Sutherland gave the 1954 artwork to Alfred Hecht, a framer to the greatest British artists of the day, who kept it all of his life and gifted it to the unnamed present owner, they added.

Churchill was famously concerned with how he was depicted in portraits and other mediums, and he objected to the main 80th birthday portrait which had been commissioned by the Houses of Parliament.

He was said to have disliked the final full-length painting completed by Sutherland, and within a year it had been destroyed.

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However, a number of studies produced before the full-length work survived, including the one now set to be auctioned.

“In this rare portrait, 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,” said Andre Zlattinger, Sotheby’s head of modern British and Irish art.

“This version shows Churchill closer to how he wished to be perceived, his less austere and gentler side, and so it is tempting to imagine how his reaction might have differed.”

Zlattinger called its upcoming sale “an opportunity to acquire a piece of history”.

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