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Stories Behind the Art

Stories Behind
the Art

Winston
Churchillpainter

Sir Winston Churchill is best known as an influential statesman and inspirational leader of the British people during World War II. However, later in life he also garnered praise for his art, largely through the promotional efforts of Joyce C. Hall and Hallmark Cards. Although Churchill often referred to it a hobby, painting proved to be more than just a casual pastime.

Largely self-taught, Churchill took up painting in 1915 during a hiatus from military service following a disastrous military campaign at Gallipoli (in modern-day Turkey). Throughout his lifetime he again turned to painting for renewal and consolation. It helped to tame his recurring depression, which he nicknamed his “Black Dog.” Art also prompted his numerous travels, which served as both painting expeditions and respite from the heavy burden of his official duties.

Churchill was always modest about his art, but J.C. Hall persuaded him to share his paintings with the public on Hallmark Greeting cards beginning in 1950. A fruitful relationship with Hallmark ensued, leading to Churchill’s first major exhibition, which was initiated by J.C. Hall in 1957. Winston Churchill, The Painter traveled to museums around the United States, breaking attendance records wherever it was shown. His life as an artist was later chronicled in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Other World of Winston Churchill, broadcast on his 90th birthday in 1964.

Churchill’s Greeting Cards

Hallmark Cards founder J.C. Hall first met Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri in 1946, when the statesman delivered his rousing “Iron Curtain” speech. Three years later Hall sought to secure the rights to reproduce his paintings on greeting cards, despite Churchill’s modesty about his art. When his lawyers presented the offer from Hallmark, Churchill quickly responded: “That’s a good firm. Make a deal with them!”

In the winter of 1950 the first boxed set of Churchill cards received four and a half million pre-orders from stores, far exceeding the company’s expectations. This was followed in successive years by further cards, calendars, and prints featuring beloved Churchill landscape and still life paintings.

Through Hallmark’s promotion Churchill soon gained distinction as “the world’s most noted hobby painter.” A friendship between J.C. Hall and Winston Churchill also grew over the years. In 1954 Churchill expressed his gratitude for their friendship by making a rare gift of Frankfurt Beach, Jamaica to J.C. Hall. Their friendship lasted until the artist’s death in 1965. Shortly after the artist’s death, J.C. acquired four more canvases. At the time, these five were the largest collection of Churchill paintings outside the artist’s own family. The paintings are now a part of the historic Hallmark Art Collection.

The Eisenhower Connection

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, grew up in Abilene, Kansas, 150 miles west of Kansas City, and maintained close ties to the area throughout his life. J.C. Hall met then-general Eisenhower in 1950, and a lifelong friendship ensued. J.C. was invited to join the board of a new museum in Abilene to be dedicated to Eisenhower. It was at the ground breaking ceremony in 1952 that the general announced his candidacy for president.

Once President Eisenhower was in office, Hallmark was entrusted to create personal greetings for the first couple as well as the official White House Christmas Cards, a tradition that continued with many subsequent U.S. presidents. A number of the cards and commemorative prints created for the Eisenhower administration were adorned with the president’s own paintings.

Inspired by the example of his friend Winston Churchill, Eisenhower began painting after the war, a pastime that remained with him throughout his life. In a letter to Churchill he noted “I have had a lot of fun since I took it up, in some miserable way, your hobby of painting.” Eisenhower painted landscapes and portraits, including those of past presidents Washington and Lincoln. He also painted a portrait of Churchill which he gifted to the elder statesman.

When J.C. Hall proposed a traveling exhibition of Sir Winston Churchill’s art, President Eisenhower made a personal appeal to Churchill. In his persuasive letter of 1957, he noted “the tremendous affection that the American people feel for you.” The following year Winston Churchill: The Painter debuted at the Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City (now the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) and broke museum attendance records nationwide.

In his foreword to the exhibition catalogue Eisenhower wrote “I may perhaps be excused in thinking so warmly of Sir Winston’s painting both because I have been so devoted to him as a friend and because of the opportunities I have had during the past fifteen years to see so many of the remarkable products of his hobby.”

Churchill's Paintings

  • State Room at Blenheim Palace
    c. 1928

    oil on canvas
    23 x 19 inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    Winston Churchill was born in 1874, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, one of the Dukes of Marlborough, and Jennie Jerome, an American socialite. His birthplace was the historic Blenheim Palace, one of England’s largest houses. This painting depicts an insider’s view of the palace’s opulent State Room. Ignoring the 18th century tapestries and furnishings, Churchill instead focused his attention on a series of open doors that lead from the dim interior of an adjoining room to a distant sunlit window. The result is a very intimate view of the imposing palace.

  • The Palladian Bridge
    1925

    oil on canvas
    23 ¾ x 17 ½ inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    Designed in 1737 in the manner of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, the Palladian Bridge is a prominent feature on the grounds of Wilton House, the countryseat of the Earls of Pembroke near Salisbury, England. Churchill painted several views of the historic bridge over the years. This painting was acquired by Hallmark in 1965, shortly after Churchill’s death. It is one of two versions of the scene painted in 1925; the other Churchill gifted to Queen Elizabeth II in 1960 where it remains on display at Windsor Castle.

  • Canal Scene
    1938

    oil on canvas
    19 ½ x 23 ½ inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    Churchill painted this tranquil scene in France in 1938, one year prior to Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. It was to be among his last painting excursions until the war’s end in 1945. Churchill rarely parted with his art, only occasionally gifting works to family and friends. He gave Canal Scene to his daughter, Sarah Churchill, an actress who hosted the Hallmark Television Playhouse series in the early 1950s. This was the first Churchill work to be sold publicly after his death in 1965. It was purchased by J.C. Hall who then sent it to a Churchill memorial exhibit at the New York World’s Fair the following week.

  • Gate at Marrakech
    1935

    oil on canvas
    18 ¾ x 23 ¼ inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    Marrakech was a favorite destination for Churchill, who found the Moroccan sunshine to be very rejuvenating. He first visited the historic city in 1935 after being passed over for a government post. This work from that year features Bab El-Khemis (Door of Thursday), one of 19 gates in the city’s surrounding wall dating back to the twelfth century. Churchill returned in 1943 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt following their strategic conference in nearby Casablanca. On that excursion, he painted his only wartime work- another idyllic view of Marrakech, the city he called “the Paris of the Sahara.”

  • Frankfort Beach, Jamaica
    1953

    oil on canvas
    24 x 29 ½ inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    1953 Churchill sailed to New York on the Queen Mary to meet with then President-Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower. Following his official duties, Churchill flew to Jamaica where he enjoyed the company of friends, including composer Noël Coward (also an avid painter) who lived nearby. Churchill worked on his memoirs and painted four pictures there, including this view of Frankfort Beach. The following year he made a rare gift of this painting to J.C. Hall in gratitude for his friendship.

Portrait Sculptures of Churchill

  • Bust of Winston Churchill
    c. 1952

    Oscar Nemon
    [Born in Croatia, 1906; Died in England in 1985]

    painted plaster
    16 ½ x 17 ¼ x 17 ¼ inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    Over the years Oscar Nemon produced numerous versions of his famous portrait of Churchill. This original plaster may have been done shortly after Churchill first sat for him as the result of a commission from Windsor Castle. Churchill returned the favor by creating a sculptural bust of Oscar Nemon, which is now on display at Chartwell, the Churchill estate.

  • Sir Winston Churchill
    1946

    Sir Jacob Epstein
    [Born in United States, 1880; Died in England, 1959]

    bronze
    12 x 7 ¼ x 9 ¼ inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    This is one of an edition of ten original bronze casts produced by the artist in 1946 and was purchased for/by? J.C, Hall and Hallmark Cards in 1963. A cast is on display at the White House in Washington, D.C., a permanent gift from the British Embassy to the Johnson administration.

  • Sir Winston Churchill
    1953-1954

    Willem A. Verbon
    [Dutch, 1921- 2003]

    bronze
    25 x 29 x 20 inches
    Hallmark Art Collection

    Born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Willem Verbon became active in the resistance movement during World War II. He was inspired by the modern artists he met in Paris at the time, and after the war he traveled to England where he studied with the  prominent portraitist Sir Jacob Epstein. Typical of Verbon’s expressive realism, this sculpture is a duplicate of a work on permanent display in the Rotterdam City Hall.

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