SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Mention the name Winston Churchill, and the picture that immediately comes to mind is that of a skilled statesman who led the British during World War II and inspired a nation during its “finest hour.”
History has painted a portrait of Churchill (1874-1965) as an ambitious, confident, bold and highly creative man. Volumes have been written about him as a statesman, and he is remembered today – five decades after his death – as a leader whose eccentricities and audacity contributed to his stubborn defiance in the face of adversity.
He also is remembered as a passionate writer and orator, writing more than 5,000 speeches, 42 books and countless articles ranging from African travel journals to essays about oil painting. In 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for “his mastery of historical and biographical descriptions as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”
There is another picture to be painted of Sir Winston Churchill: the portrait of Churchill as an artist.
A collection of paintings by Churchill, “Passion for Painting: The Art of Sir Winston Churchill,” will be on exhibit at Wofford College’s new Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts beginning Wednesday, May 17. The exhibition runs through Saturday, Sept. 16. Also on exhibit will be nature artwork from The Johnson Collection in the art museum and contemporary works by three Tunisian artists in the Richardson Family Art Gallery.
The Churchill exhibition offers a unique opportunity to view paintings rarely seen in North America. Bringing together 10 paintings from the esteemed collection of the family of the late Julian Sandys, grandson of Churchill, and from the collection of the National Churchill Museum, the exhibition surveys both Churchill’s landscapes and seascapes, the artist-statesman’s favorite subjects. Beginning with his work from the 1920s, the paintings on view represent four of the five decades in which Churchill pursued what was for him the greatest of hobbies.
The exhibition in the Richardson Family Art Museum is a collaboration between the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, and Wofford College. It also includes several objects from the permanent collection of the National Churchill Museum, including a cigar humidor given to Churchill by the people and government of Cuba (1946); a top hat signed by Churchill, President Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin (1945); and a rare dispatch box from Churchill’s time as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1915). Also on view will be several items from Churchill’s visit to Westminster College, where he delivered his most significant post-war speech, the “Sinews of Peace,” commonly known as the “Iron Curtain Speech” on March 5, 1946.
“During his lifetime, Winston Churchill created more than 570 paintings,” says Timothy Riley, the Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator at the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College. “He maintained that he was an amateur painter, though I believe visitors to this exhibition will agree that Churchill was an amateur with considerable skill. He did not create for the purpose of exhibiting them widely. For Churchill, painting was a therapeutic activity. It helped him sharpen his focus – it was a deeply personal exercise. For audiences today, Churchill’s paintings provide us with a glimpse of the great leader’s power of observation and his highly creative mind.”
Wofford President Nayef Samhat says the Churchill exhibition is a fitting beginning for the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, which will house the college’s arts and theatre programs, two performance theaters, classrooms and studios. “This stunning new building will transform the arts at Wofford College and beyond. Our ability to provide our students and the entire Spartanburg community with outstanding opportunities such as the Churchill exhibit is remarkable,” he says. “We are honored to host this important and rare exhibition in collaboration with the National Churchill Museum. On behalf of the college community, I also extend our deepest appreciation to Jerry Richardson for his gift that made this center possible and to his wife, Rosalind Sallenger Richardson, for inspiring that gift. Every day will be a celebration in this center for the arts with exhibitions, plays and performances.”
The Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, including the Richardson Family Art Museum and the Richardson Family Art Gallery, will be open to the public beginning Wednesday, May 17, with these hours: 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 1 to 9 p.m. Thursdays. It will be closed to the public Sundays and Mondays.
Of Churchill’s nearly 575 total paintings, 350 are landscapes or seascapes. He often planned his holidays – to the south of France or Marrakech – in order to satisfy his interest in colorful scenery, which he painted en plein air, or outdoors.
“The oil paintings in this exhibition – Churchill painted almost exclusively using oil paints – are some of the best examples of Churchill’s artistic efforts,” says Riley, who will give a talk at the closing reception for the exhibition on Friday, Sept. 15, titled “The Art of Sir Winston Churchill.” “They show his love for light and shadow, and intense color. He famously referred to the act of painting as a ‘joy-ride’ in a paint box.”
Riley continues: “Part of Churchill’s great success as a man – and a leader – was his creativity. The same mind that could paint an image with words – ‘broad sunlit uplands’ – applied thought to color, light and shadow. I think audiences today can appreciate the depth of Churchill’s genius by looking at his painting.”
Churchill did not begin painting until the age of 40. Although he received no formal training as an artist, he pursued his hobby with characteristic passion, and it became a lifelong interest. A 1921 essay, which later became the basis for his book “Painting as a Pastime,” serves as the painter’s personal credo on the creative process and recounts the origins of his interest in painting.
In 1915, during World War I, Churchill commanded the British Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty. “He observed the horror of 20th century warfare – powerful artillery, machine guns, trenches – and devised a plan to shorten the conflict by knocking Turkey out of the war on the eastern front in the Straits of the Dardanelles,” Riley says. “While historians continue to debate who caused the plan to fail, it did – disastrously, with 250,000 allied casualties. Churchill took the blame and was forced to resign his position.
“At 40 years old, he was despondent and depressed. It was the low point in his career that Churchill began to paint,” he continues. “He later said that painting ‘came to my rescue.’ He never turned back and continued to paint into his 80s. It was therapy for him. He once said, ‘Without painting, I could not live.’ I think that is an important reminder for us in today’s age, that we might heed Churchill’s advice – slow down, carefully observe the world around you, refocus and be creative.”
ALSO IN THE ROSALIND SALLENGER RICHARDSON CENTER FOR THE ARTS
The Richardson Family Art Museum also features an exhibition of works by a variety of artists who have sought to capture the South’s seasons and sky on canvas. “The Mountains Are Calling: High Seasons in the Carolinas from the Johnson Collection” are works from Spartanburg’s Johnson Collection, which offers an extensive survey of artistic activity in the American South from the late 18th century to the present day. This exhibition will run through Saturday, Sept. 16.
The Richardson Family Art Gallery is exhibiting “Printemps des Arts: Subtleties of Resistance and Renewal,” works by three Tunisian artists, Hammadi Be Saad, Ghalia Khadar and Souad Chehibi. The show is curated by Wofford sophomore Meghan Curran as her capstone project for her Middle Eastern and North Africa Program studies. The exhibition of 27 pieces from the collection of Dr. Cathy Jones, a professor at Converse College. The exhibition ends Saturday, Aug. 19.
A beacon of color and light greets visitors as they enter Wofford College’s new Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts into the main lobby from the center of campus. The striking, yet warm autumnal shades of red, orange and yellow are the elements of the Cerise and Amber Persian Ceiling created by renowned American sculptor Dale Chihuly. Entering from the main parking lot of the center for the arts, from Memorial Drive along the south side of campus, visitors are welcomed by yet another stunning Chihuly sculpture, the Goldenrod and Crimson Persian Chandelier. Both sculptures were commissioned specifically for the center for the arts and were created to honor the commitment arts of Jerry and Rosalind Richardson and their ongoing ties to both Wofford and the Spartanburg community. Chihuly and his team worked closely with the Richardson family, representatives of Wofford and the design team to realize the magnificent and elegant legacy works of art for the campus. The colorization of the artwork was inspired by images of fall foliage that were particularly chosen and much loved by Mrs. Richardson.