Monday, July 17, 2017


A Present from Sir Winston Churchill to Vivien Leigh

A Still Life of Roses Picked from his Garden at Chartwell
Unveiled for the First Time

Alongside A Painting by Vivien Leigh

Revealing the Little-Known Story of the Friendship
Between the Prime Minister and Legendary Star of Gone With the Wind

                           The paintings will be on public exhibition from 17 July – 11 August                          

Ahead of Sotheby’s sale of the Personal Collection of Vivien Leigh on 26 September
34-35 New Bond Street, W1A 2AA

 Sir Winston Churchill, Roses in a Glass Vase, Estimate £70,000-100,000
Winston Churchill in his studio at Chartwell. Roses in a Glass Vase can be seen hanging on the wall beside him.

“Whenever I feel particularly low or depressed I look at those three rosebuds. The thought and the friendship in the painting is such a great encouragement to me… and I have the determination to go on.” - Vivien Leigh

A still-life of roses by Sir Winston Churchill, given to screen-legend Vivien Leigh, has been unveiled for the first time at Sotheby’s in London. Never seen in public before, the painting reveals the little-known story of the deep and long-lasting friendship between the Prime Minister and the legendary star of Gone with the Wind.

Depicting flowers picked from Churchill’s beloved garden at Chartwell, his country home in Kent, Roses in a Glass Vase was gifted to Vivien in 1951, during a midnight supper hosted by Churchill on the birthday of Leigh’s husband, Sir Laurence Olivier. Churchill’s flower paintings were given only to those dearest to him, with other recipients including his youngest daughter Mary.*

Leigh treasured the present so greatly that the work hung on the wall opposite her bed. She loved flowers and collected other artists’ flower paintings too, including Jacob Epstein’s Peonies (est. £1,500-2,000) and Matthew Smith’s Flowers in a Vase (est. £10,000-15,000), included in Sotheby’s sale. Fittingly, on Churchill’s 90th birthday she sent him a bouquet as a gift.

Although best known for his landscape paintings, Churchill was also a master of the still life genre, and his flower paintings held a deeply personal resonance. The flowers Churchill grew at Chartwell, his own private corner of England, were hugely important to him, and he drew myriad inspiration from the mallows, nasturtiums, tulips, daffodils and roses that filled the flowerbeds. 

The house itself was often filled with masses of flowers, and when driven indoors by the English weather, Churchill settled down to paint the floral groups that adorned the house.

Estimated at £70,000-100,000, the painting is now set to be one of the star lots in Sotheby’s sale of Leigh’s personal collection on 26 September 2017. It will be sold together with a photograph of Winston Churchill in his studio at Chartwell, showing Roses in a Glass Vase hanging on the wall beside him.

Churchill was not the only painter in this friendship however, as revealed through further lots discovered in Leigh’s collection. Alongside a copy of Churchill’s book, ‘Painting As a Pastime’, can be found a never-before-seen painting of an Italian landscape by Leigh herself, and her artist’s bag. It seems that Churchill himself inspired Leigh to pick up a paint brush. Please find more information below.

 “Churchill's gift of a still life of roses to Vivien speaks volumes about the respect and regard he felt for her. Theirs was not a passing acquaintance, but a friendship that endured for more than twenty years. He inspired her to begin painting and it is poignant to think that they shared a mutual solace in an activity where they found a refuge from all the trials and tribulations of daily life.” - Frances Christie, Head of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Department 

An exhibition of highlights is on view at Sotheby’s 34-35 New Bond Street until 11 August 2017. Full auction preview open 22-25 September 2017.

Vivien The Artist

In 1950, a year before Vivien received Roses in a Glass Vase, she was the recipient of another gift from Churchill, an inscribed copy of his book, ‘Painting as a Pastime’ (est. £1,500-2,000). A meditation on painting, this book espouses the therapeutic benefits of making art.

Vivien was a passionate collector and patron, and more than twenty artworks from her private collection are included in the sale, including works by William Nicholson, Harold Gilman and John Piper. As she travelled the world – to Australia, to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), to Algiers in the midst of World War II, to Hollywood – she took her favourite paintings with her to adorn the walls of her hotel and theatre dressing rooms.

However, Churchill and ‘Painting as a Pastime’ clearly inspired Vivien Leigh to paint as demonstrated by one of her own works, a delightful Italian landscape (est. £200-300) included in the sale, alongside her canvas artist's bag containing a wooden box with oil paints and a travelling folding easel (est. £800-1,200).


“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

Leigh & Churchill’s Friendship

“By Jove, she’s a clinker!” Winston Churchill on Vivien Leigh 

Leigh and Churchill first met in 1936, when they were introduced by British film producer Alexander Korda on the set of the film Fire Over England. Vivien was a little-known actress at the time and Churchill an established Parliamentarian more than twice her age, but this was a start of a friendship that would last for thirty years, until Churchill’s death in 1965.

Churchill was a great fan of cinema, and of Vivien Leigh’s work in particular. On the release of Gone with the Wind in London in 1940, Churchill, by then Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, stayed up until 2am watching the film. 

And, when Lady Hamilton was released the following year, this became Churchill’s all-time favourite film. He is said to have watched it countless times in 1942 during weekends spent at Ditchley Park, a friend’s Oxfordshire home where he retreated to for safety during the war, much to the frustration of his fellow guests.

During his later years, Churchill had his own private cinema installed at Chartwell, and Lady Hamilton remained a firm favourite, once again received the most viewings. It is likely Churchill himself had originally proposed to Korda the idea of making a stirring war-time film about Nelson and Lady Hamilton with Leigh and Olivier starring in the leading roles.

St James’s Theatre

Vivien’s friendship with Churchill ran deeper than many people knew, as attested to by a letter included in the sale dated 18 July 1957 (est. £2,000-3,000), in which Churchill secretly promises to donate money to St James’s Theatre, which Vivien was trying to save at the time. 

She had made an impulsive and staunch defence against the theatre's demolition in the House of Lords a week earlier, on 11 July, and was promptly escorted out, an event which garnered front page headlines.

Though Churchill was unable to publicly support Vivien, in his letter he offers to donate £500 to the cause and – with a barely concealed chuckle of admiration – admonishes her: “I hope you will succeed in your defence of St. James’s Theatre, though as a parliamentarian I cannot approve your disorderly method… I shall be definitely committed to the cause”.

Vivien’s great personal attachment to the theatre, and her insistence on maintaining it for the sake of England, saw her march along Fleet Street and the Strand with Athene Sayler, another actress, ringing a hand bell to draw attention to a sandwich board she was wearing, which featured a written protest about the theatre’s demolition. 

In an interview many years later, Sayler recalled Vivien saying that she would go to a restaurant and everybody would look at her, but if she walked down the middle of the street with a placard, nobody took the slightest bit of notice.

Vivien’s actions prompted fun cartoons which are included in the sale: from Giles, “Vivien, dear, repeat after Larry: I will be a good girl and come straight to rehearsals. I must not join protest makers on the way. I must not call the House of Lords and wake everybody up…", inscribed, ‘With best wishes / from Giles’ (est. £800-1,200), and, from Osbert Lancaster, I THINK IT'S A MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS PROTESTING AGAINST THE DEMOLITION OF VIVIEN, signed and dated, Osbert '57 (est. £400-600).

*Magnolia, a flower painting given by Churchill to his daughter, Mary Soames sold for £698,500 at Sotheby’s London in December 2014 (est. £100,000 -150,000)

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