Audio: Sir Winston Churchill's Villa on the Nivelle
Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965)
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Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965)

Villa on the Nivelle

Sir Winston Churchill, O.M., R.A. (1874-1965)
Villa on the Nivelle
signed with initials 'WSC' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1945.
Lady Spencer-Churchill.
Arabella S. Churchill.
Purchased from the artist's family by the present owner in 1974.
'The Paintings of Winston Churchill', LIFE, 7 January 1946, p. 47, illustrated.
D. Coombs, Churchill his paintings, London, 1967, no. 474, p. 256, illustrated.
M. Soames, Winston Churchill - His Life as a Painter, London, 1990, p. 136.
D. Coombs, Sir Winston Churchill's Life Through his Paintings, London, 2003, pp. 185, 256, no. C 473, fig. 375, illustrated.

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André Zlattinger
André Zlattinger

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Lot Essay

This is one of the few Churchill paintings that can be dated with near absolute accuracy. Allied victory over the Nazis in May 1945 led to the fracture of Britain's war-time Government, the "Grand Coalition" in Churchill's inimitable phrase. A General Election was called for July leading to a two-month campaign that proved especially difficult for Churchill who was in his 70th year, increasingly worried by the prospect of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe, and out of touch politically at home, although personally still immensely popular.

Polling day was set for for 5 July with a three week delay for the votes of Britain's overseas forces to be counted before the election results were to be announced. Churchill had already decided to take a holiday between election day and the start of the crucial post-war Potsdam Conference in Berlin where he was to meet Stalin who he already knew and President Truman for the first time: Roosevelt having suddenly died in the April.

Accompanied by his wife Clementine and with his daughter Mary as one of the party, Churchill flew to Bordeaux in France, then drove south to St Jean-de-Luz near the Spanish border to stay with Brigadier-General Brutinel, owner of the Chateau Margaux vineyard, with a house overlooking the Bay of Biscay in whose hospitable waters Churchill found much enjoyment.

At first "tired, crochety and restless" in his daughter's words, "things looked up" when they went to visit Bryce and Margaret Nairn who were also holidaying nearby. They had first met in 1943 when Churchill was in North Africa for the Casablanca Conference; Bryce was British Consul in Marrakech and his wife had been a professional painter. Encouraged by Margaret, Winston once again felt able to take up his brush, on one occasion venturing with her up the River Nivelle to paint a view of Mrs Cunliffe Owen's house - on the opposite bank, the subject of this picture.

But its story does not end there. Out of power after the election, Churchill was approached by LIFE magazine, an American journal of great international influence at the time. The upshot was its decision to publish in January 1946 a wide selection of his paintings in full colour, with a dramatic photograph of Churchill in his Chartwell Studio on its cover. One of the chosen pictures was this view of a Villa on the Nivelle.

We are very grateful to David Coombs for providing the catalogue entries for lots 30 and 35.

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