Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965)
Sunset over the Atlas Mountains
oil on canvas
20 x 24 in. (50.7 x 61 cm.)
Painted circa 1935.
The Studio, Chartwell.
Sarah, Lady Audley.
D. Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill Life Through his Paintings, London, 2003, pp. 171, 252, no. C211, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Churchill loved Marrakech. Although several of his artist friends, particularly Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941), a fashionable portrait painter but one also notable for his landscapes, had urged him to travel to Morocco, it was not until the winter of 1935-36 that Churchill first went there, to Tangier, but only for a day or two as it rained. He then travelled on to Marrakech where the sun shone and he spent a happy few January weeks staying at the Mamounia Hotel - where his bedroom was not only comfortable but had a large balcony.

Ostensibly on holiday, Churchill was at the time working on his two-volume life of the first Duke of Marlborough. Churchill's principal way of earning his living was as a writer, especially in journalism, but this never precluded his embarking on major projects, like this monumental biography of his great ancestor, which as ever he found exhausting, compelling, fruitful - and lucrative. Nonetheless, for Churchill, he was always to find in painting a vital, necessary and practical recreation, stimulated in Marrakech by its warmth and intensity of its light.

While staying at the Mamounia Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine describing the scene from his balcony. It had a 'truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives, and the houses and ramparts of the native Marrakech, and like a great wall to the westward the snow clad range of the Atlas mountains.' (This letter is quoted by Churchill's youngest daughter Mary Soames's in her memoir of her father's Life as a Painter, 1990.)

This is the very view that is the subject of the present painting, which is unusually freely and loosely painted so as to suggest perhaps Churchill's delight in the scene. Its rich colours confirm also the wonder that Churchill always felt in the presence of this particular mountainous sunset. The painting also goes some way to explaining why in 1943, after the serious wartime deliberations of the Casablanca Conference, Churchill insisted on taking President Roosevelt on a 150 miles drive across the desert to Marrakech.

'You cannot come all this way to North Africa,' he told his friend, 'without seeing the sunset on the snows of the Atlas Mountains.' After the President left, Churchill was to paint the scene, though then from a different viewpoint, the tower of the American Vice Consul's villa. It was 'the only picture I ever attempted during the war.' (The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill, Vol. IV, 1951.)

We are very grateful to David Coombs for preparing this catalogue entry.

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