Churchill WWII Painting Up For Auction

Churchill WWII Painting Up For Auction

Churchill WWII Painting Up For Auction

What price can you put on history? Right now, it looks to be about $3.4 million, and could likely be higher.

The only painting that Winston Churchill created during World War II – he was just a little busy during that period of time – was of a landscape in Marrakech. Churchill painted it as a gift to President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the Casablanca Conference in 1943.

In January 1943, Churchill invited Roosevelt to join him in Marrakech the day after the Casablanca Conference concluded, motivated by his desire to share views of the city and the light at sunset. The view impressed Roosevelt so much that Churchill decided to capture the scene for him as a memento of their excursion, according to Christie’s.”

The painting, which depicts the 12th-century mosque in Marrakech at sunset, with the Atlas Mountains in the background, is arguably the best by Churchill, according to Nick Orchard, head of modern British art department at Christie’s, because of “the significance of the subject matter to him, and the fact that it highlights the importance of the friendship between the two leaders.”

When Roosevelt died in 1945, one of his sons sold the painting (rules on gifts to presidents not being established until the 1960’s, and updated in 1989 – otherwise, the painting would be part of the White House collection), and it has apparently passed through multiple hands until landing with the current owner putting it up for sale – Angelina Jolie, who bought it in 2011. Why is she selling it? Divorce settlements are like that.

The couple separated in 2016 and have spent years enmeshed in divorce proceedings, amid speculation about the division of their extensive art collection. They were declared divorced in 2019 after their lawyers asked for a bifurcated judgment, meaning that two married people can be declared single while other issues, including finances and child custody, remain.”

The painting is striking in and of itself – even if you know it is the work of a gifted amateur (unlike, say, Jim Carrey and his awful cariactures) – but when you know its provenance, it becomes historically priceless.

Can you imagine owning a piece of history like that? It would be amazing to be able to claim ownership of Churchill painting, especially this most famous one, even if you felt you could never display it in your own home and ended up loaning it out to a museum. It’s likely to end up in the hands of a private owner again, and we will probably not know that person’s identity unless the painting is sold again. But how on earth do you put a price on this? $3.4 million is considered to be the upper end of the valuation, according to Christie’s, who is running the auction. Obviously, they are hoping for more.

There is something in me that wants to slap Elliott Roosevelt for selling the painting in 1945. Did he even know or care what it was that the family was giving up? FDR’s children all had messy personal lives, so who knows what was going through his head when he sold the painting. Maybe it was something along the lines of the easiest way to divide up an inheritance is in cash, the same way it works in a divorce. It is sad, though, to see famous, historically meaningful art disappear off the public stage, even though the internet makes sure that we know what paintings look like and keeps records, even when the general public can’t see or access it.

The real question is, if you had a cool $4 million or so lying around, would you buy this Churchill painting? Art’s value is in the eye of the beholder, and what they are willing to pay for it. And if you wanted to buy it, knowing the artist, the time period, and the story behind its creation – does that increase its value? Is the historical connection to Churchill, FDR, and the Casablance Conference the only value?

The painting will go up for auction, along with other paintings, at Christie’s in London as part of a “Modern British Art Evening Sale” on March 1st. If you have the inclination and the cash on hand, mark your calendars. If not, then the internet is your friend, and you can persue Churchill landscape art – along with this particular painting – at your leisure.

Featured image: “Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” by Winston Churchill, cropped

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