3 of 222 portraits of Winston Churchill
Lent by the Churchill Chattels Trust; Image © National Portrait Gallery, London
by Sir William Orpen
oil on canvas, 1916
58 1/4 in. x 40 3/8 in. (1480 mm x 1025 mm) overall
Lent by Trustees of the Churchill Chattels Trust, 2012
Sitterback to top
- Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965), Prime Minister. Sitter in 222 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Sir William Orpen (1878-1931), Painter, Royal Academician. Artist associated with 29 portraits, Sitter in 28 portraits.
This portraitback to top
As First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, Churchill was held responsible for the naval campaign to capture the Dardanelles Straits from the Ottoman Empire that resulted in 46,000 allied deaths. He resigned in 1915, his reputation ruined until the Dardanelles Commission cleared his name in 1917. Orpen’s portrait was painted during the Dardanelles enquiry and captures Churchill at the lowest point of his career. Orpen referred to him as a ‘man of misery’ at that time. Churchill remarked: ‘It is not the picture of a man, it is the picture of a man’s soul.'
Linked publicationsback to top
- 100 Portraits, p. 107
- Moorhouse, Paul; Faulks, Sebastian (essay), The Great War in Portraits, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 February - 15 June 2014), p. 129 Read entry
Orpen's portrait of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was made in 1916, over eleven sittings. Aged forty-two, the statesman appears sunk in a slough of despond. He ws having to endure the ignominy of blame for the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli and the mental burden of so many lives lost. Demoted, Churchill had resigned and submitted to a commission of enquiry. Orpen captures the brooding interior world inhabited by his sitter, whose facial expression and body language speak volumes. Hand on hip and clutching a top hat, there is an attempt at confident poise but the shoulders are bent forward, suggesting an invisible weight. A portrait of dejection, this work reveals the capacity of art to imitate truth, however unpalatable. Churchill was later exonerated, the Dardanelles comission reporting in March 1917 that he was not held responsible.
- Redford, Bruce, John Singer Sargent and the art of allusion, 2016, p. 196
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 194 Read entry
This haunting portrait of Winston Churchill, who would become one of Britain’s best-known prime ministers, captures him at a critical moment in his career. It was painted over eleven sittings in 1916 during the Dardanelles Commission, the official investigation into one of the most disastrous naval campaigns of the Great War. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was blamed for Britain’s catastrophic attempt to conquer the Dardanelles Strait. He resigned and prepared to defend himself against accusations of incompetent and reckless leadership. Having lost his command, his position in government and his reputation, he feared he would never again take public office.
This sombre, introspective portrait by William Orpen (1878– 1931) captures this sense of bleak uncertainty. It was described by the artist as a depiction of ‘the man of misery’. When it was completed, Churchill told Orpen, ‘It is not the picture of a man, it is the picture of a man’s soul.’ Churchill’s fears were ultimately unfounded: the Commission rehabilitated his reputation and he went on to lead Britain to victory in the Second World War. He continued, however, to regard this portrait as one of the best paintings of himself, and it hung in his dining room.
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1916back to top
Current affairsAs war drags on with heavy losses conscription is introduced with the Military Service Act. Conscientious objectors who refused to fight were compelled to do non-military war work, and some were jailed.
British Summer Time is introduced, putting the clocks forward an hour during the summer in order to capitalise on daylight hours.
Art and scienceC. Hubert H. Parry sets William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, to music popularising the poem and tune as a patriotic English anthem. On hearing Edward Elgar's orchestrated version in 1922, King George V suggested that it replace God Save the King as the National Anthem.
InternationalThe Irish Citizen Army starts a Nationalist rebellion in Dublin: The Easter Rising.
Massive losses are suffered on the Western Front at the battles of the Somme and Verdun.
The Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire (1916-18) led by Prince Faisal is assisted by T.E. Lawrence, who became known as Lawrence of Arabia.
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