Did you know that Winston Churchill was a painter?
In fact, he painted over 500 works of art and they were exhibited in Atlanta from October 1, 2014 – Februay 1, 2015.
I had the pleasure of hearing Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., President of the National Monuments Foundation, speak at a luncheon. Cook’s firm built the Millennium Gate Museum in Midtown Atlanta where “The Art of Diplomacy: Winston Churchill and the Pursuit of Painting” exhibit was showcased. The 85-foot high arch resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with its classical styling. Additionally, it houses a 12,000 square foot museum.
The Millennium Gate Museum in Midtown Atlanta
“The building was my mid-life crisis Ferrari with a few more zero’s attached,” Mims told the crowd. “Behind the state capital, it is the second largest collection of items related to Georgia history.”
Churchill and Georgia history?
Most people don’t automatically connect the two.
Mims explained that Churchill’s ancestor, John Churchill – the First Duke of Marlborough trained James Oglethorpe in the military. James Oglethorpe served as one of the 21 trustees of the newly colonized Georgia and protected the area from the Spanish at St. Augustine Fl. Additionally, Oglethorpe’s brother served at John Churchill’s aide-de-camp in the Battle of Blenheim. In the early 1930’s, Churchill and his daughter, Diana visited Atlanta, staying at the Biltmore Hotel. Later, his other daughter, Sarah, got married at Sea Island in 1949. Currently, Churchill’s great-grandson, Duncan Sandys resides in Macon with his Georgia-born wife.
Painting by Churchill’s grand-daughter, Edwina Sandys
But what about painting? After the Battle of Gallipoli, Churchill was unpopular and grew depressed. In 1915, he picked up painting as therapy. Mims said, “He was quite good at it and entered some of his works anonoymously to contests and won.”
His works have an impressionistic style to them and the exhibit showed 30 of them. Other items are displayed – including a letter from Churchill’s doctor prescribing alcohol on his trip to Atlanta during the Prohibition years.
One of my favorite paintings is “The Tower of Katoubia Mosque,” not only for the beauty in the piece, but the story behind it.
Tower of Katoubia Mosque
Cook explained that FDR and Churchill met in Casablanca secretly without Stalin. After the conference, Churchill insisted that FDR travel the 150 miles across the desert with him to see the sunset at Marrakesh, one of Churchill’s favorite winter destinations. Despite opposition from the Secret Service, FDR agreed and they had an enjoyable time. The next day, Churchill painted the picture and gave it to FDR as a gift. It was the only painting he did during WWII.
Unfortunately, the painting got lost over time. Mim’s assistant asked for a month to try to locate it. Through extensive research, she found it had been for sale at Rou Antiques in New Orleans at the same time a particular movie had been filmed there. According to Mims, “She traced the walking routes of this one actor from where he was staying to the set. If this one actor walked, not rode in a car, but walked to the set, he would pass the painting in the window every day.”
It was a gamble, but through some connections, Mims was able to approach the actor and ask if he owned it. Once the actor heard the background story, he admitted he owned it and would lend it to the exhibit for exhibition. At first, he wanted to do it anonymously, but later agreed as long as they included his wife on the signage.
The couple – Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
The theme that runs through this exhibit is taken from historian Ernst Gombrich’s observation that art saved the western world. Had Churchill not found solace in painting, he may have succumbed to his depression – what he called “the black dog.” If so, he wouldn’t have been Prime Minister of England at such a pivotal point in history. In fact, he was one of just a handful of people during the late 1930’s that didn’t trust Hitler.
I think these works of art did save the western world and the way we live today.
The exhibition left Atlanta on February 1, 2015. However, it is at the Martha Barry Museum in Rome until March 15th. It will then travel to UGA in Athens until April 19th before its final destination at the Telfair Museum in Savannah until July 26, 2015.
For more information, visit http://churchill-atlanta.com/museum.