Sunday, November 25, 2018

DAY 58: Those Painterly Churchills

A painting by Winston Churchill of  Long Library at Blenheim. What I love about this painting
 is that it depicts two dark-haired women at their easels, and thus is a painting of...other painters,
painting. My personal belief is that the woman in the purple smock is Jennie, and this is
Winston's portrait of her.
Jennie Jerome Churchill was known in American and London Society for her extraordinary talent on the piano, about which more later. But she was roughly thirty when she learned to paint--under the tutelage of a Mrs. E.M. Ward, who was painting instructor to Alexandra, Princess of Wales, among others. Mrs. Ward was one of those women, quasi-visible in Victorian society, who might have been a great artist--but for her gender. She was, instead, married to a Great Artist. This was the fate of many women in the Gilded Age who possessed artistic talent; prohibited as "ladies" from achieving professional respect, they consigned their art to the realm of "female accomplishment," and donated it to charity. In their remaining hours, they supported their Artistic Men.

When I get to Heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting. --Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, Self-Portrait
Mrs. Ward remembered Jennie bringing Leonard Jerome to see her studio, as well as Winston, a little boy in short trousers at the time--he might have been eight or ten. Winston made a point of writing to his mother from school about his progress in art--that he was learning perspective and shading, for example, in drawing class. Jennie confessed in her memoirs that she was "violently" devoted to learning to paint, and martyred everyone she knew to sit for her as models. But as far as I can discover, her paintings have not survived.

And yet...Perhaps they have. Through her son, Winston.

When Winston resigned from Asquith's cabinet following the debacle of Gallipoli, Jennie urged him to pick up a paint box. She was acutely aware that he was under enormous stress and struggling with depression, and she was certain that painting would help.

The very next day, as Winston remembers it, he dabbled with his children's watercolors. And the day after that, he went out and bought a complete set of oils, along with an easel.

That is why we have paintings of Winston's from the period of World War I, such as my favorite--his depiction of soldiers embarking for Dover. But he went on to paint for the rest of his life, and even published an article on the subject: "Painting as Pastime," that can be bought today as a slim little volume. Ex-president George W. Bush has said that it inspired him to learn to paint--and that the pursuit of it in his retirement has been remarkably fulfilling.

Winston and Jennie used to consult about the nature of light, and how to paint it. It remained a preoccupation for Winston throughout his painting career. At right, a painting of his, of the light on water in southern France. And this painting I particularly love, done undoubtedly after Jennie's death--entitled Gardener's Cottage at Mme. Balsan's.  Madame Balsan was of course Consuelo Vanderbilt Spencer-Churchill Balsan, Winston's former cousin, who had by then divorced Winston's cousin Sunny, 9th Duke of Marlborough, to marry Jacques Balsan and live happily in France. Again, the preoccupation with light is evident in his manner of painting.
Gardener's Cottage at Mme Balsan's

The nature of light should always be a topic for debate between close relations. 
Or so I believe.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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