Cannadine talks Churchill’s secret artistry

Renowned British politician Winston Churchill had a relaxing pastime that few know about — painting.

David Cannadine, the Whitney J. Oates Research Scholar and Lecturer of History at Princeton University, visited the Yale Center for British Art Thursday to give a talk in front of approximately 90 local art enthusiasts, students and alumni about Churchill’s talents. The talk, called “Painting as a Pastime: Winston Churchill: The Statesman as Artist,” discussed the history of Churchill’s interest in painting, which spanned from midlife to his retirement.

Princeton history professor David Cannadine discussed Winston Churchill’s painting skills at the Center for British Art on Thursday.
Creative Commons
Princeton history professor David Cannadine discussed Winston Churchill’s painting skills at the Center for British Art on Thursday.

“When Winston Churchill took up painting, he had never been in a national gallery,” Cannadine said. “[But] Churchill possessed a visual appreciation for art.”

Churchill was fascinated by political cartoons from a very young age, Cannadine said, adding that as well as drawing and painting, Churchill was a very accomplished writer. In his spare time, he took a number of drawing classes, which Cannadine said made a lasting impression on him.

While Cannadine said many dismissed Churchill early on as being uninformed about art, the politician had some truly innovative artistic perspective and taste, Cannadine said.

A busy politician, Churchill usually painted his landscapes and pictures of planes in complete silence, he said. During World War I, he would take breaks from writing his war memoirs to paint. He soon became recognized as an accomplished amateur painter, Cannadine said, but Churchill never pushed for public recognition as a painter.

“Churchill had resisted any attempt to put on a one-man show in London,” Cannadine said.

Near the end of his life, Churchill painted as a way to relax, and as he became older, the vigor visible in his earlier work disappeared, Cannadine said. He painted his last canvasses in the fall of 1960, and died in January 1965.

Audience members interviewed said they appreciated the chance to learn more about one of the world’s great politicians.

“The connection between this talk and the national funding of the arts is a fascinating one,” Conor Crawford ’12 said. “Churchill painting and trying to push creation of something out of nothing is something that American youth are beginning to learn.”

Lisa Totman, a teacher at the Foote School in New Haven, said the talk was phenomenal, adding that while she had no experience in art, her cousin, who is an art editor, encouraged her to attend the event.

“He was easy to listen to and pulled many aspects of Churchill’s life together,” she said.

Winston Churchill amassed approximately 500 canvasses during his life.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    I believe Churchill wrote a little book entitled Painting as a Pastime.”

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