Statesman, Politician, Historical Giant. Viewed through the long lens of history, Winston Churchill is heralded as one of the greatest wartime leaders the world has seen. A Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word, his contribution to history extended beyond the realm of the state, civil matters, and its people. For Churchill made a lasting impact on the realm of art history as well through his greatest passion: painting.
In June 1915, Churchill resigned as First Lord of Admiralty following the Dardanelles Campaign, seeking respite from the dark, heavy affairs of political matters. He was forty and exhausted. In spite of (or perhaps due to) a political and state career that would give him his everlasting, Churchill desired a relief from the profound depression that plagued him. He quit London and rented a farm in Godalming for the summer with his wife Clementine. Among the company was Churchill’s sister-in-law Gwendoline, a talented watercolorist. In long leisure moments contemplating the future of the frightful, unfolding war, Churchill observed his sister-in-law’s artistic endeavors, which quickly attracted him to the quiet endeavor of painting. With the same determination that made him a master politician, Churchill set about to master the art of oil painting. His daughter Mary noted the effect of painting on her father, “Problems of perspective and color, light and shade gave him respite form dark worries, heavy burdens and the clatter of political strife… enabling him to confront storms, ride out depressions and rise above the rough passages of political life.”
Churchill was particularly attracted to sun-drenched, sweeping landscape scenes in the South of France, Morocco, and Egypt. Bursting with color and vibrancy, his dramatic brushwork fully embodied the rejuvenation Churchill himself felt while painting. Finding hours of occupation and pleasure in the activity, Churchill was on his way to becoming an accomplished artist. One particular piece displays the bright, peaceful mood he felt while painting: A Distant View of a Town in the South of France. Highly personal, this bold, colorful canvas represents all trademarks of Churchill’s artistic style. Full, saturated yellows occupy the foreground that lead into dense greens and gushing blues. Regarding the work, one can almost feel the breeze from southern France escape the canvas. Afternoon shadows bounce off the canvas, while thick strokes of color create an overwhelmingly peaceful, beautifully composed image. Light and airy, this piece is not only a representation of Churchill’s talent in artistry, but the peace and solace he felt while painting.
“Happy are the painters,” Churchill once described his relationship with painting, “for they shall never be lonely: light and color, peace and hope will keep them company to the end – or almost to the end of day.” In a sequence of resiliency and rejuvenation, Churchill found more than a hobby, but a passion that sustained him.