Original bronze head of Winston Churchill.London, 1947 Stock Code: 130956
NotesWidely regarded as one of the finest representations of Churchill by one of the most celebrated British sculptors of the 20th century. In August 1945 following Churchill's defeat in the July general election the Ministry of Information's War Artists' Advisory Committee, at the suggestion of its chairman, Sir Kenneth Clark, commissioned Epstein to make a portrait head of Churchill. "Aware of Epstein's reputation as a modernist, Sir Kenneth Clark explained the committee's choice to Churchill 'he is almost the only distinguished living master of the portrait, and we find that the busts he has done for us already show a much greater measure of truth than any other portraits we have commissioned'" (Imperial War Museum). According to art historian Jonathan Black, "Epstein was initially reluctant to accept as he had a lot of other work to occupy him at the time". However, by a fortuitous coincidence, in early October 1945 Churchill moved into 28 Hyde Park Gate; Epstein had been living across the road at number 18 since the late 20s. Therefore, sittings were easily arranged and the two men met for the first time in November of that year. Perhaps in light of Epstein's left-wing politics, the sculptor's secretary, John Finch, was "surprised by how respectful Epstein was towards Churchill" (ibid.). There were three sittings at Epstein's studio in late December 1946 and a further three at Chartwell. In his autobiography Epstein remembered these sittings as "somewhat restless". For the casting Epstein employed the services of the highly regarded Chelsea-based foundry of Gaskin's, still in business as the Art Bronze Factory, who also worked with Henry Moore, Elizabeth Frink, and Barbara Hepworth. Silber identifies the foundry as having cast most of Epstein's small-scale work after 1945. The finished portrait was first shown at the Leicester Galleries in February 1947 as part of the exhibition Landscapes by Ethelbert White and New Sculpture by Jacob Epstein, where, according to Epstein's biographer Richard Buckle, it was "incongruously surrounded by eighteen small nude studies on which he had worked intermittently throughout the war". Buckle also comments that since its first exhibition, the "demand has far exceeded the limited edition of ten castings". As a postscript, "when Epstein was knighted in January 1954 he was convinced that Churchill (Prime Minister since October 1951) had been responsible for the recommendation" (Black).
As already mentioned, Buckle states that the edition was limited to ten casts, a point reinforced by the standard work, Evelyn Silber's The Sculpture of Epstein (1986), who notes that there was a convention among sculptors that "bronze editions should not exceed ten or twelve" (p. 115). That said, she speculates that there may have been as many as sixteen casts of the Churchill but notes that the version exhibited by the Leicester Galleries in 1960 was the "last of 12" and that "Epstein's bronzes were not cast in numbered editions". Among institutional holdings there are examples at Churchill College, Cambridge, Imperial War Museum, Iziko South African National Gallery, Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Government Art Collection, which has two casts (one on loan at the White House). There is no example at the National Portrait Gallery or the Tate. Eighteen examples appear on the records at artprice.com, a number of these being repeat appearances. Some three of these are described as "bronze", eleven as "green" or "dark green" patina, one with "dark brown" patina, two with "green and brown patina", one with the finish not described. Eight of these are displayed on white bases (marble or stone) and the remainder on dark bases (black marble, stone or slate).
With Kensington Art Gallery, London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 May 1988, lot 142.
With Chapman Gallery, London, where purchased by the previous owners in 1989.
Anonymous sale; Phillips, London, 17 July 2001, lot 39.
Epstein captured Churchill at a remarkable point in his career, the victorious war leader defeated by the popular vote that swept in a Labour government, and there is perhaps a mixture of resignation and determination in Churchill's expression. The Imperial War Museum comments that "this is a powerful work. Churchill's ringed eyes display not only focus but also clarity of vision: the rough surface, his formidable grit and determination".
Bronze with a green patina, signed "Epstein" on back of neck; mounted on a polished slate plinth; height overall 400 mm, head 305 mm.
A few chips to plinth otherwise in excellent condition.
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