Winston Churchill painted to relax. He picked up the pastime in 1915, at age 40, and kept at it until he was too old to do it any longer. He never sold his works, instead giving them to friends, family, and dignitaries. We can’t know how he’d have reacted to the news that nine of the top ten most-expensive Churchill paintings sold at auction commanded $1 million or more, but it’s certainly fun to think about.
On November 21, Sotheby’s London is offering collectors a chance at two Churchill paintings in its Modern & Post-War British Art Evening Sale, which features a 1922 landscape of the south of France, estimated at £100,000 to £150,000 ($132,000 to $199,000). But in particular, Sotheby’s is pushing the later The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, a 1962 painting tagged at £50,000 to £80,000 ($66,400 to $105,600). It’s the last painting Churchill made, and it showcases one of his favorite subjects: the pond at Chartwell, his beloved home in Westerham, Kent, England.
Churchill’s auction record was set by a 1932 painting of the same theme, which sold for £1.7 million ($2.7 million) on its estimate of £400,000 to £600,000 ($628,600 to $943,000) at Sotheby’s in London in December 2014. Consigned by the estate of Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest child, who had died in May of that year, the record-setting work was among 15 of his painting—eight of which currently rank among his top ten sales.
“The market has always been strong for Churchill, and it was strong before the Mary Soames sale,” says Robin Cawdron-Stewart, a Sotheby’s specialist in modern and post-war British art. “What excited collectors was the provenance. Mary was the last surviving child, and she lived with the paintings throughout her life. They had great personal significance.”
Another Churchill painting turned in an eyebrow-raising performance in September in a Sotheby’s London sale of the effects of Vivien Leigh. His circa 1930s Study of Roses, which he gave to the actress, trounced everything else—Gone With the Wind memorabilia included—to fetch £638,750 ($847,200) against an estimate of £70,000 to £100,000 ($94,500 to $135,000).
“It was something Vivien Leigh really treasured,” Cawdron-Stewart says. “She wrote in letters, not just to Churchill, about how much it meant to her, and how she looked to it when times were hard.”
As an artist, Churchill holds his own. His paintings traditionally appear in modern British art sales, not political memorabilia sales. When asked point-blank if he’d consider Churchill paintings for Sotheby’s if Churchill’s name wasn’t on them, Cawdron-Stewart said “yes” with no hesitation. “He’s a skilled painter in his own right, no matter who he was,” he says. “He painted accomplished, skillful renderings of English landscapes and Mediterranean landscapes, and he was very skilled at capturing light and shadow.”
Decades after his death, Churchill still has fans all over the world who eagerly compete with fine art collectors for his canvases. “I’d say you should buy a work of art because you love it. That’s definitely the case with Winston Churchill paintings,” he says.