Winston Churchill didn’t sleep much. The British statesman worried. He planned.
He drank and smoked cigars well into the night.
But for most of his life, this brooding man had a great source of solace.
It was painting.
And some of his art is now on display at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center.
“He used to say that he couldn’t have coped without painting,” says Duncan Sandys, Churchill’s great grandson. “He found that as the place to really regroup and move forward and upwards.”
The man who led Britain to victory in World War II first picked up his paintbrushes during a dark period of his life.
The year was 1915. Another war was raging in Europe.
And he had just been sacked as First Lord of the Admiralty following the disastrous battle at Galipoli, in Turkey, where more than 56,000 British and French soldiers died.
At a summer house south of London, he sulked, watched his sister-in-law painting in the garden and decided to take up this passionate hobby.
“It lifted him out of his depression,” Sandys says. “And 45 years later, he put down his brushes, having painted more than 500 paintings.”
Many of his paintings were good. He specialized in landscapes and oils. He especially loved the light and colors in the south of France and Morocco.
But the true value of his art comes in its historic context.
Would Churchill have returned to politics had art not cleared his mind 100 years ago?
Would he have had the same skills of awareness, conceptualization, mindfulness and focus that helped him win the war?
The art critic Ernst Gombrich said that 1915 painting may have helped to save western civilization.
And another of Churchill’s works also receives credit for saving the world from tyranny.
The prime minister painted “Tower of Koutoubia Mosque” near Casablanca, where in 1943 Churchill and Roosevelt made important war decisions and pledged to fight until Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally.
“We regard this as probably the most important moment of the 20th Century,” says Rodney Mims Cook Jr., an architect, preservationist and president of the National Monuments Foundation.
“Tower of Koutoubia Mosque” was the only painting Churchill made during World War II.
In this podcast, Cook explains how the circumstances behind this work of art transformed the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt into a friendship that won the war.
Cook also explains how the painting got from Casablanca to Savannah.
And what a remarkable story that is!
It involves the White House, Hyde Park, private collectors, a New Orleans art gallery and a search for this “lost Roosevelt painting” that eventually led to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who agreed to loan it to the exhibition.
“When Duncan came and told me that news, it was like fireworks went off,” Cook says. “It’s certainly not the greatest painting of the 20th Century. But I can certainly say that it is the most important painting of the 20th Century.”
The Jepson Center exhibit, called “The Art of Diplomacy: Winston Churchill and the Pursuit of Painting,” also includes photographs, letters and personal items of the former prime minister.
The exhibit will remain on display through July 26th.