European Paintings Auction to Feature Winston Churchill Work – April Auction at Bonhams

. March 12, 2008

Art collectors to history buffs are eagerly awaiting international auctioneers Bonhams’ upcoming April 23rd, 2008 sale of European Paintings as it was made known that a rare work by none other than Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) would be coming to the auction block in New York City, the sale to be simulcast to the San Francisco salesrooms of Bonhams & Butterfields.

While Churchill is universally known for his leadership of Great Britain during WWII and his historic, often awe-inspiring speeches, it is a less-known fact that he was also a prolific and gifted painter.

In the early summer of 1915 Winston Churchill was at the nadir of his career. Towards the end of May that year Churchill had been forced to resign his post as First Lord of the Admiralty as a result of political pressures arising from the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. This dark period of his life ultimately led to his beginnings as a painter. Churchill would write: “I had long hours of utterly unwonted leisure in which to contemplate the frightful unfolding of the War. At a moment when every fibre of my being was inflamed to action, I was forced to remain a spectator of the tragedy… And then it was that the Muse of Painting came to my rescue…”

The actual moment came about when Churchill noticed Gwendeline, his sister-in-law, at work with watercolors during a weekend in the country. Strangely fascinated, he borrowed her brush to try a few strokes and found that not only was the activity enjoyable, but that he also appeared to have some innate skill as well. Gwendeline quickly appropriated her young son’s paint set to further encourage his new found interest, while Clementine, his wife, purchased painting materials for his use from the small town of Godalming in Surrey. From this point on, his passion for painting endured, offering him an escape through some of the darkest times in England’s and Europe’s history.

As fortune would have it, Churchill counted many artists amongst his circle of friends and acquaintances. Churchill’s London neighbors were the celebrated painter John Avery and his wife Hazel, a talented painter in her own right. Churchill had the pleasure of painting with and receiving tips from Avery as well as such celebrated artists as Paul Maze and the Degas pupil, Walter Sickert.

Of his love for painting Churchill once wrote: “When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject.”

The work to be offered at Bonhams is a 20×24-inch oil on canvas titled Sunset over the Atlas Mountains. Painted in Marrakech circa 1935, the piece was originally in the possession of Lady Sarah Audley, Churchill’s daughter, before being sold into a private Texas collection in 1992. The landscape features Churchill’s view of the sunset on the snows of the Atlas Mountains, from a tower of the Hotel La Mamounia. It is expected to fetch as much as $600,000. With its many jewel-themed hues, the painting epitomizes Churchill’s feelings on the use of color, about which he wrote: “I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors, I rejoice for the brilliant ones…” Churchill so cherished this scene that he returned to the spot almost a decade later, during the midst of WWII, to paint it again and share the view with Roosevelt.

And while Churchill’s painting is sure to intrigue collectors, it is not the only piece expected to spark fierce bidding at the sale. The auction will also feature an oil by famed painter Sir Henry Raeburn. His lovely bust-length portrait of Mary Smith of Jordanhill, Glasgow (1789-1847), dates from the early 1820s, is 30×25-inches and estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. This painting is from Raeburn’s “Romantic Period” which witnessed the production of many highly inventive portraits of emotionally charged women such as in this portrayal of Mrs. Smith.

Also up for bid will be an Orientalist scene from Austrian painter Franz Xavier Kosler estimated at $30,000-50,000. Kosler has chosen as his subject a timeless Arab marketplace, quite possibly Cairo, where he spent time and, after his one-man exhibition in 1894, came to be highly regarded by Egyptian society.

Another piece expected to excite bidders is a painting by Valentín de Zubiaurre, titled Alcalde de Anticona, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000. The painting depicts the mayor of a small Spanish town seated outdoors with his villagers, as the setting sun colors the landscape.

The sale will be on preview at Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco April 11-13. The New York preview opens on April 19th and continues through the 22nd, the auction taking place in New York City and simulcast to the San Francisco gallery on April 23rd. This will be one of the first sales to take place in the auctioneer’s new Manhattan showroom at 580 Madison Avenue, slated to open earlier in the month. The illustrated auction catalog will be online for review and purchase at www.bonhams.com/us.

Category: Auction News

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