Sutherland’s Studies of Churchill – a link to Netflix and British history right here in Fredericton.

Beaverbrook Art GalleryDecember 15, 20160 Comments

If you’ve ever watched an historical drama like Netflix’s The Crown, you may find yourself wondering how much of it is fact and how much is fiction. Well, we can confirm one detail from a recent episode: the sketches made for the portrait of Sir Winston Churchill are 100% real. In fact, some of them are hanging in our orientation gallery right now.

For Winston Churchill’s 80th birthday, Graham Sutherland was commissioned to paint his portrait – the second in a series of three oil portraits that all served to enhance the reputation of their subjects. The first was the portrait of Lord Beaverbrook, and it was on his suggestion that the portrait of Churchill even came about. Sutherland’s portraits were famously both disliked and regarded as masterpieces by their subjects. Sutherland’s motivation as an artist was not to idealize his subjects, but to reveal their truth by painting simply what he observed.  For Sutherland, Churchill was, by that time, an aging worn-out man. And though he was not pleased with the portrait, Churchill was persuaded to accept the artwork in a public presentation ceremony, and did so with what many see as a backhanded compliment to the artist, saying it was a “remarkable example of modern art.” However, as seen in the episode of The Crown, the portrait was brought to Churchill’s home, and was later quietly destroyed.

Thankfully for the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the sketches and studies of Churchill that were done by Sutherland before the official painting were not destroyed. The artist was known for being quite obsessive over his subjects, and would study their every feature before composing them into the painting. Before sitting down to paint Churchill’s official portrait, Sutherland sat with him and created 14 smaller sketches and oil paintings as studies. These are all now part of the Gallery’s permanent collection.

Whether you are a history buff, or a Netflix buff, these pieces are highly interesting. They speak to the way that art can preserve history, even when those who are the subjects, or those who are close to the subjects, might prefer to forget it. The Studies of Churchill will be hanging in the Orientation Gallery for all to see until January 15, 2017. We invite you to come in and discover New Brunswick’s connection to this bit of British history for yourself.

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