The Onassis Family Is Selling a Winston Churchill Painting

Art with a history as complex as the man who painted it

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill engrossed in his hobby of oil painting at Miami Beach, FL. (1946)

Few, if any, historical figures prompt as heated a debate as Winston Churchill. Seen from one angle, he’s the leader of a nation who helped the Allies win World War II; seen from another, his legacy is inexorably connected with the worst parts of British colonialism. And all of this focuses on his time in government; it doesn’t take into account his substantial career as a writer or his penchant for painting. All of which might help to explain why he remains at the center of so many discussions — he’s one of the most multidimensional world leaders to have ever held office.

Curiously, it’s Churchill’s work as an artist that may be the most ascendant part of his legacy these days. A recent article by Angelica Villa at ARTnews notes that one of his paintings, of a mosque in northern Africa, sold for $11.6 million at auction earlier this year — a significantly higher price than what was expected. This established a new record for Churchill’s art; the previous record was $2.7 million, set in 2014.

Now, another high-profile work by Churchill is set to be auctioned off — this one at the behest of the Onassis family. On June 23, Phillips will sell Churchill’s painting The Moat, Breccles, which dates back to August of 1921.

Churchill gave the painting to Aristotle Onassis as a gift in 1961, and it was displayed for many years on Onassis’s yacht the Christina. Phillips estimates that The Moat, Breccles will sell for between $1.5 and $2 million. Will this sale also elude expectations? We’ll know later in the month.

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