‘Indomitable in retreat, invincible in advance; insufferable in victory’
-Winston Churchill on Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery
Coming to the market for the very first time, from the descendants of Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery, one of the most important British military figures of the Second World War, Scene at Marrakech is a vibrant example of the celebrated North African scenes that Sir Winston Churchill so loved to paint. Here, Churchill has captured the chromatic intensity of the evening sun, using confident brushwork to render the contrast between the cool blues of the meandering river, the sun scorched ochres of the landscape, and the luscious emerald greens of the mirage-like vegetation that borders the vista. Of all the places around the world that Churchill captured on canvas, Marrakech was his favourite, and this work was painted on his first visit there – the excitement of discovery clearly evident.
Famed for his self-confidence and decisiveness, which was sometimes perceived as arrogance, Montgomery’s leadership was renowned, and his reputation can be attributed to landmark victories throughout the Second World War, such as commanding the Allied Forces on D-Day and throughout the Battle of Normandy. Montgomery was an obvious choice for Churchill to appoint as leader of the then wavering 8th Army in North Africa in 1942, a testament to the trust the Prime Minister placed in his officer. A particular focus for Churchill at the time, success in the North Africa campaign was essential to winning the war. Against all odds, Montgomery rallied the Allied Forces and led his troops to victory, the first major land victory for the Allies. To celebrate this victory and mark this key turning point in the war, Churchill ordered the bells of Westminster Abbey to be rung, the first time they had been heard since the start of the war as they were reserved to signal an invasion. From this point forward, Monty’s career went from strength to strength, and the partnership and lifelong friendship between himself and Churchill was cemented. Monty went on to play instrumental roles in the closing stages of the war in Europe, personally accepting the surrender of the German Forces on Lüneburg Heath on 4th May 1945.
It was perhaps the Field Marshall’s triumphs in the desert at the battle of El Alamein, Egypt, that prompted Churchill to gift this particular canvas to him, a reflection of the importance that North Africa held for the pair. Churchill was not fond of parting with his pictures until after the war, when he started to gift his works to close friends and family as symbols of appreciation or friendship. It was Monty’s uncompromising and self-confident character that meant that the two did not see eye to eye at first, and they were rumoured to have fallen out soon before the D-Day landings in 1944. The Prime Minister decided to have it out with Monty in person, and a visit to the 21st Army Group Headquarters followed shortly thereafter. The Field Marshall’s defiant response to Churchill’s challenge ultimately earned him a mutual respect that ensued for the remainder of their friendship. Monty later became a close friend of not only Sir Winston, but the whole Churchill family. A frequent visitor to Chartwell until Churchill’s passing in 1965, Monty was much liked by Churchill’s wife, Clementine, who never hesitated to rebuke him when he made some typically difficult remark, which he always took well as he admired her greatly.
Despite the rich political history that the two shared together, it is poignant that the present work is devoid of any political or wartime connotations. Rather, the painting is symbolic of the partnership which, had it not existed, could have lead to a dramatically different outcome of the war.