Artwork of the month: January 2015 marks 50 years since the death of Sir Winston Churchill.
Winston Churchill (1874–1965) was a leading statesman, writer and orator who is best remembered for leading Britain to victory during the Second World War. In an influential political career that spanned 64 years, he held numerous ministerial positions and served as Prime Minister twice (1940–45 and 1951–55).
This portrait shows Churchill at the age of 81, during his second term as Prime Minister. It was painted in 1955 by Bernard Hailstone (1910–87) during sittings for a portrait of Churchill as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, an ancient ceremonial position that he held from 1941 until his death in 1965.
In the final full-length portrait Churchill wears full dress uniform. In contrast, this sketch shows him as he sat informally to the artist in his famous ‘siren suit’, which he often wore during his wartime leadership.
Hailstone was a leading society portraitist who served as an official war artist during the Second World War. Though he and Churchill got on well, the artist found the great man to be a frustrating sitter:
'[he] refused to sit for very long at a time and was constantly moving. As a matter of fact he was dictating his ‘History of The English Speaking Peoples’ as I was trying to paint him, and we eventually came to some sort of agreement involving sign language…the hand turned sideways, veering to either right or left, was the indication of where I wanted his head to move'.
As many other artists found out, Churchill was also by no means an easy sitter to please. However he had nothing but praise for Hailstone’s portrait, which wonderfully captures his sharp intelligence and indomitable character.
The portrait was recently acquired for the Parliamentary Art Collection by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art.
- View Hailstone's portrait and other Churchill-related works from the Parliamentary Art Collection in our new online exhibition 'Churchill and Parliament'
Image: Bernard Hailstone, 'Sir Winston Churchill', 1955 (WOA 7463)