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

The Beach at Walmer

Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965)
The Beach at Walmer
signed with initials 'WSC' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 30 in. (63.5 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1938.
A gift from the artist to General Lord Ismay, and by descent.
D. Coombs, Churchill: his paintings, London, 1967, p. 200, no. 316, illustrated.
D. Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill's Life Through his Paintings, London, 2003, pp. 122, 254, no. C 316, fig. 231, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Of all Churchill's honorary positions few can have given him greater satisfaction than his appointment by the King in 1941 as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle. This ancient office dates back to the 13th century, its holder originally being responsible for the coastal defences at the eastern end of the English Channel: at the time of Churchill's appointment an area only recently freed from constant enemy air attack during the Battle of Britain.

Since the early 18th century, the official residence of the Lord Warden has been Walmer Castle built by King Henry VIII in 1539. One of Churchill's predecessors as Lord Warden was the Duke of Wellington who delighted in staying at the castle, an additional historical connection that would have been very appealing. By long tradition, Lords Warden are of Royal or Noble state, so Churchill's position as a commoner made his appointment near unique however appropriate. (Later, from 1978 - 2002, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother became Lord Warden also staying regularly at the Castle.)

This view of the Beach at Walmer is dominated by one of the ancient cannons that still guard the seaward approaches to the Castle. Churchill himself and his family much enjoyed sea bathing and it is tempting, though without any specific evidence in this instance, to imagine that he might have painted some of them among the figures disporting happily in the waves at the edge of the beach.

It is true that Churchill was loathe to give away any of his paintings and then usually as a mark of extraordinary friendship - as was the case in this gift to General Ismay (1887 - 1965). Throughout the Second World War, Hastings Ismay ('Pug' to his friends) was Churchill's chief military adviser as well as companion to conferences overseas including to the United States in 1942 and Casablanca the following year.

Acting as the link between the Prime Minister and the Chiefs of Staff, Ismay's talents, personality, professional skills and experience proved of inestimable value, for he was trusted and admired by all, not least by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. After the war, Ismay helped Churchill write his memoirs, chapter by chapter. Lord Ismay's own career reached its climax when he became the first Secretary General of NATO, 1952 - 57.


Family hearsay asserts that Sir Winston Churchill had always promised Bunker (as Lord Ismay was known within the family) a picture and, one day, when he was visiting his studio Churchill asked him to choose a painting that he liked. When Lord Ismay had made his choice Churchill, who was never keen on actually parting with his works, offered to have it framed. Whereupon Lord Ismay said 'No, it's alright Sir, I'll get it done', and tucked it under his arm. Lord Ismay said he had chosen The Beach at Walmer because to him it was Winston, standing guard on the coast while England played.

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