The various national jubilations and celebrations of this year have undoubtedly swelled British national pride. The gloom of the last few years (albeit, perhaps, temporarily) seemed to lift, and, in its place, abounded swags of union jacks, street parties, Olympians, and amassed cheering crowds. We’ve been reminded of the aspects of British culture and history that are worthy of our admiration. One individual who never ceases to captivate the popular imagination is our beloved Sir Winston Churchill.
The antique and art trade continues to reflect this fascination. A couple of years ago Christies auctioned “the most important and comprehensive private collection” of Churchill related memorabilia. The first sale (of three) amassed £600,000. As well as engagement cards and unsmoked cigars, the collection included various letters, one of which was a response to a defeatist letter Churchill had received from a former private secretary in 1940, who had declared that, ‘We’ve done our best. Now is the moment to make peace terms’…Churchill’s reply is characteristically impressive and pithy. Quite simply, he says, ‘I’m ashamed of you for writing such a letter. I return it to you to burn and forget.’ This collection of letters sold for more than four times their estimate - going to a private UK buyer for £34,850.
In June of this year, a picture of orchids painted by Churchill in the 1930s was displayed at the Masterpiece London exhibition at the Royal Hospital. It had previously been in the custody of one Margot Sandys, an in-law of one of Churchill’s daughters, and as it went directly from the studio to her house has never been seen in public, until now. Churchill rarely parted with his paintings, and almost never signed them, but he did sign Still Life With Orchids at the request of its owner, 20 years after he gave it to her. The painting is anticipated to fetch about £495,000 when it is to be sold via private bids. Time, it would seem, has done nothing to dull our reverence of this remarkable and complex British icon.
When asked to cut arts funding to help the war effort Churchill apparently retorted, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’ Sadly this anecdote is more Apocrypha that gospel; no tangible source or record has been found to verify that this was, in fact, something Churchill ever said. But perhaps there is something to be said for the popular (albeit mistaken) acceptance of this anecdote as true. As if defending and defining our nation’s history was not enough, we have evidently come to regard Churchill as integral to our artistic and cultural heritage too.