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Sotheby's to offer Sir Winston Churchill's final painting
Sir Winston Churchill, The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, oil on canvas, circa 1962 (est. £50,000-80,000) © Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Appearing on the market for the first time since it was gifted by Sir Winston Churchill to his bodyguard Sergeant Edmund Murray, The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell is the final work that Britain’s greatest war-time leader ever painted. The work depicts the beloved goldfish pool in the garden of Churchill and his wife Clementine’s home at Chartwell – the place most closely linked to his development as a painter. A unique and moving insight into his final years, The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell will be offered with an estimate of £50,000-80,000, as part of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Evening Sale in London on 21 November.

“Painting is a friend who makes no undue demands, excites no exhausting pursuits, keeps faithful pace even with feeble steps, and holds her canvas as a screen between us and the envious eyes of time or the sultry advances of decrepitude. Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end, or almost to the end, of the day.” -- Sir Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime, 1921/22

Winston Churchill discovered painting when he was 40, in the wake of the debacle of the 1915 Dardanelles campaign, which, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he had been responsible for instigating. From this moment on, painting was to form an essential part of his life and he rarely travelled without his paint-box – a passion that would endure far in to old age. On many occasions, he remarked that the “Muse of Painting came to his rescue”.

This painting depicts one of the series of water gardens near the house at Chartwell, where he especially enjoyed feeding the golden orfe, whose descendants still swim in the pool at Chartwell. Churchill and Clementine had bought the house in 1922 – a purchase that was made possible by an unexpected inheritance from a distant cousin – and were to live there for 40years. Chartwell not only became the family home and a beautiful venue for entertaining guests, but also Churchill's cherished country retreat and a constant source of inspiration until his death in 1965. Unlike many of his landscapes at Chartwell, this painting is unusual in zooming right into the water itself taking in the luscious foliage along the water side. It is an exemplary essay in tonality and near-abstraction, combining multiple hues of greens and browns to striking effect with the golden orfe brought to life through vivid flashes of orange impasto.

“Yesterday Papa and I walked round all the lakes, and in the round one below the pool there are about 1,000 little golden orfe! They are no bigger than this and pale goldy yellow in colour with here & there a touch of red. They look so sweet swimming around in the weeds. Papa is very much excited.” --Mary Soames, letter to Clementine Churchill, 1938

Having never sold a work during his lifetime, the vast majority were given by the artist to friends, colleagues, employees, foreign dignitaries or family members. This painting was gifted to his bodyguard Sergeant Edmund Murray, who served with him from 1950 to his death in 1965, and who provided much support and encouragement in setting up his easel and preparing his brushes. Murray remembered that the final occasion Sir Winston used brushes was at Chartwell around 1962 – one of his favourite places providing a fitting subject for his last painting.

Churchill’s works at Chartwell are highly sought after, with the world auction record of £1.8 million achieved for a masterpiece from 1932 focusing on the same subject, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 having been in the collection of his daughter, Mary.

The sale offers a further work by Churchill, an early landscape painting inspired by the South of France, to be offered with an estimate of £100,000-150,000. An accomplished work from 1922, much like The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell it carries a fascinating story of a very private connection with Churchill and his family. It was given to Miss Maud Elgie, who between 1919 and 1921 had charge over the household’s nursery and Churchill and Clementine’s two eldest children. The sheer enjoyment that Churchill took in the process of painting is apparent in the freely applied and richly textured paint of this warm and bright view.

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