La Dragonnière was Lord Rothermere's villa at Cap Martin in the South of France. He was a wealthy newspaper proprietor who among other papers owned The Daily Mail. The two men were old friends, socially as well as politically, the latter connection being imperative for both, each seeking political influence as well as the opportunity, in Churchill's case, to express his views publicly in a supportive environment.
Rather by the way, but in the general context of Churchill's real interest in art and his constant need to earn his living from writing, it is relevant to mention that in 1932 and 1934 Churchill wrote two little known yet perceptive pieces of art criticism for The Daily Mail, provoked by the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibitions of those years.
In the winter of 1935-36 Churchill paid his first visit to Morocco; Sir John Lavery amongst others having recommended North Africa as an attractive location for him to paint. In Marrakech Churchill took up residence at the Mamounia Hotel with his party (he was at work on his monumental biography of his ancestor The Duke of Marlborough). Lord Rothermere was also staying with a party. Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine, 'Rothermere offered me 2 bets. First £2,000 if I went teetotal in 1936. I refused as I think life [would] not be worth living ... I have however accepted his second bet of £600 not to drink any brandy or undiluted spirits in 1936.' (Cf. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Vol. 5, p. 695.)
A year later, in February 1937, despite Clementine's trying to tempt him to join her in St Moritz (she had recently taken up skiing) Winston opted for the warmth and sunshine of the French Riviera and went to stay with Lord Rothermere at La Dragonnière. Here Churchill spent a restful fortnight and delighted by the garden and its grove of olive trees produced a series of paintings - of which the present picture can now be seen to be another and fifth example.
Hitherto unknown and authentic paintings by Sir Winston Churchill with an indisputable provenance are very rare indeed, which makes its discovery unusually exciting. This picture has an additional feature: for the vibrantly colourful plant so prominent at its centre is unusual in Churchill's landscape work, here combined with his interest in painting flowers.
Churchill's last visit to La Dragonnière was in 1945. After the huge personal shock of losing the general election he had been urged by his wife and family to take a long painting holiday in the sunshine of Lake Como. Feeling more and more happy in himself and, despite the many years of wartime interruption, achieving success once again with his brushes and paints, Churchill extended his holiday to revisit old haunts on the French Riviera. As Mary Soames relates in her indispensable memoir of her father as a painter, La Dragonnière was then owned by a relation of Lord Rothermere whose family of small children enchanted Churchill. They came out to see him bringing the picture he had painted there eight years previously. Perhaps this is the very picture?
We are very grateful to David Coombs for preparing this catalogue entry.