• 20th Century British And Irish auction at Christies

    Sale 7789

    20th Century British And Irish Art

    12 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 45

    Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965)

    The Ruins of Arras Cathedral (after Sargent)

    Price Realised  


    Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965)
    The Ruins of Arras Cathedral (after Sargent)
    oil on canvas
    22¾ x 28½ in. (57.8 x 72.4 cm.)
    Painted in the 1920s.

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    The present work was inspired by a painting by John Singer Sargent called Ruined Cathedral, Arras, which was owned by Churchill's friend, Sir Philip Sassoon. Sassoon was also a great friend of Sargent, and in his position of Private Secretary to Field Marshal Douglas Haig, came into contact with Sargent when he was in France in 1918. Sassoon recorded that Sargent had been 'doing lovely things of... Arras Cathedral' and later came to own the picture.

    Churchill was often a guest at Sir Philip Sassoon's country houses and Sassoon encouraged Churchill in his interest in Sargent, for example, loaning Two glasses on a verandah, an early work by Sargent, to Churchill in 1926. Churchill hung his copy of this work at this house, Chartwell. It was during the 1920s that Churchill also copied Ruined Cathedral, Arras, presumably while staying with Sassoon.

    Arras Cathedral, consecrated in 1833, was heavily shelled by German forces in June and July 1915. A New York Times article dated 14 July 1915, titled 'Bishop's Palace Destroyed. Germans Concentrated Their Fire on That and Arras Cathedral', reported that 'On July 6, about 7 A.M., shells fell on the Cathedral, the roof of which took fire, and, despite the efforts of our troops, was entirely consumed, as were the Cathedral organs'. Contemporary photographs of the shelled cathedral, such as those held in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland, show that Sargent was faithful in his depiction of the ruins.

    Churchill's interpretation of Ruined Cathedral, Arras is painted with a freer hand and more intense colouring than the work by Sargent. Churchill takes particular interest in the immense solidity of the columns, still standing amongst the ruins. The play of light across the colonnade, and the emphasised pockmarking from shrapnel bring an emotive quality to the picture.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Randolph S. Churchill.
    Winston S. Churchill.


    D. Coombs, Churchill his paintings, London, 1967, pp. 83, fig. 116. M. Soames, Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter, London, 1990, 50 and 51.
    Exhibition catalogue, Painting as a Pastime, London, Sotheby's, 1998, pp. 21, 93, no. 22, illustrated, as 'Ruins of the Cathedral of St. Vaast, Arras (after Sargent)', (incorrectly measured).
    D. Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill's Life Through his Paintings, London, 2003, pp. 92, 126 and 255, no. C. 116, fig. 165, illustrated (incorrectly numbered as C. 440).


    London, Sotheby's, Painting as a Pastime, January 1998, no. 22, as 'Ruins of the Cathedral of St. Vaast, Arras (after Sargent)'.