A painting by Winston Churchill sells for more than five times its pre-sale estimate, but it’s no surprise, writes Olenka Hamilton
There are few personalities who invite quite the same level of fascination as Sir Winston Churchill. From his half-smoked cigars to his gardening gloves to his paintings, the amount people will pay to get their hands on anything with the wartime prime minister’s mark on it is continually staggering.
The most recent case-in-point is his painting, The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell', which sold for £357,000 at the Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Evening Sale in London, wildly exceeding its reserve price of £50,000-80,000 after what was described as ‘frenzied bidding’ between ten hopeful buyers.
Painted in 1962, three years before Churchill’s death, the painting was his last and depicts the goldfish pool in the garden of the home he shared with his wife Clementine at Chartwell near Sevenoaks – the place which is most closely linked to his development as an artist, a hobby he embarked upon at the age of 40. The painting was a gift from Churchill to Sergeant Edmund Murray, his bodyguard from 1950 to his death in 1965, and had never been on sale before.
‘There is an endurance of the Churchill name which is an extraordinary phenomenon,’ explains Sandy Mallett, gallery director at St James’s modern and contemporary gallery Messum’s, who was present at the sale. The question is, how could the guide price be so out of kilter with market sentiment? ‘It exists as a strand which emanates beyond the art world. These are anomalies because one is guessing at the significance of the Churchill name which goes beyond simply the art world.’ A second painting by Churchill, Landscape with two trees was also for sale and went for £570,000, also exceeding its reserve price of £100,000 to £150,000.
It’s not the first time a painting of Churchill’s has been snapped up for more than double the asking price. Another painting by the same name, which belonged to his daughter Mary Soames, sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for £1.8 million, and came with a reserve price of £400,000 to £600,000.
It’s not only because it’s a Churchill, though, Mallett points out: it’s 20th century British art which is becoming increasingly popular among buyers. In fact, a number of paintings at the sale — which totalled an impressive £10,481,500 — superseded their estimates, including Henry Lamb’s ‘Study for Lytton Strachey’ which went for £118,750, very nearly double its reserve price.
‘There is strong money behind 20th century British art at the moment,’ Mallett observes. ‘There is an underlying growth in 20th century British art. It’s a very good market to be looking at.’
But as ever it helps to have the right celebrity connection — which Churchill, for reasons obvious, continues to deliver. Just last month one of his half-smoked cigars sold for more than £9,000. Peak Churchill must be upon us, but clearly not yet.
Olenka Hamilton is staff writer at Spear's