When I saw that a programme on BBC 4 about Winston Churchill the artist was to be presented by Andrew Marr, I sighed as I anticipated it would be as much about Marr as Churchill. I imagine as he is one of BBC’s star turns it was he who insisted on making the programme which was called Marr on Churchill. So there he was, Panama hat on head, oil paints out, dabbing at the canvas and easel explaining how the redemptive power of art applied as much to his stroke as to Churchill’s uneven career and disposition to his black dog of depression.
To be fair Marr, who has some knowledge of art, interviewed David Lavery – an author of a book on Churchill’s art – and Emma Soames and Celia Sandys, Churchill’s grandchildren for their recollections. Unlike Marr, Churchill was a talented, accomplished painter. There is a tendency now for dealers to promote painters who have had stellar musical careers : Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Ronnie Wood. At least the latter went to art college but the fusion of star names and high prices result in necessary skills like draughtmaship falling by the wayside. Churchill mastered the fundamentals of painting although he never had a formal art education at one of the schools. However he was close to Sir William Nicholson, Walter Sickert and Sir Alfred Munnings – the latter persuaded him to present two paintings to the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of which he was President. Famously the two, probably after too much alcohol, denigrated modern art and Picasso.
Churchill painted in the garden at Chartwell, in the South of France when he stayed in the villa of Coco Chanel, and Marrakech, chiefly of the light falling on the Atlas mountains. He had a strong feeling for composition and colour. As the programme developed I began to warm to Marr. At least he called Churchill “Our greatest Prime Minister” and we were not treated to the wayward view, as happened on the BBC programme on the 1945 election of a hard left activist who denigrated Churchill as no more than a right wing drunkard. Churchill’s legacy and accomplishments went beyond leading our country, which fought the longest war of all, to keep alight the spirit of civilisation between 1939 and 1941 in the face of Hilter’s brutality. The other 3 super powers had either ceded pusillanimously (France) , did not wish to be involved (USA) or signed a Nazi pact (Russia). He was also a talented artist, socialite, master builder – he built the swimming pool at Chartwell, and prolific writer. In short a polymath. And to be fair this programme did justice to that.