Churchill as an Artist (2)

David Cannadine gave a brilliant lecture last night on Churchill’s commitment to his work as an artist and his use of painting as a way of alleviating the black dog of depression.   But I realised afterwards that I am still unclear as to exactly how friendly he was with Alfred Munnings and how far he shared Munnings’s very conservative views of art.   It was apparently Churchill who encouraged Munnings to revive the Royal Academy’s annual dinner in 1949.   He was sitting next to Munnings when Munnings, as President, stood up to give his ill-fated and drunken speech in which he berated all aspects of contemporary French art, quoting a comment Churchill had made earlier in the evening as to what one might do if one met Picasso in the street – apparently, much to Churchill’s annoyance.   What Cannadine made clear that Churchill’s involvement in art, and commitment to it, was longer, deeper and more complex than one might expect of a major international statesman.

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3 thoughts on “Churchill as an Artist (2)

  1. edward chaney says:

    Alas i mist Cannadine’s talk so don’t know whether he clarified that although Munnings claimed to have been quoting Churchill as asking: ‘Alfred, if you met that Picasso coming down the street, would you join with me in kicking his something something?’, Churchill denied that he did so, writing to him afterwards that: ‘I do not think we have ever walked up a street together, and anyhow this is not the sort of statement that should be attributed to me.’
    But the RA dinner to which i was referring in yr previous blog was the one of more than a decade earlier at which Churchill seemed to defend the idiotic decision, confirmed not by Munnings but by outgoing President Sir William Llewellyn, to reject Wyndham Lewis’s portrait of T.S. Eliot. I hereby take the liberty of quoting from my gripping articolo in the 2016 issue of the Journal of the Wyndham Lewis Society:
    ‘Now featuring Gilbert and George among its members, this is the same
    institution that in 1938 rejected Lewis’s superb portrait of T. S. Eliot as
    too modernist, as a result of which it ended up in Durban, in Graham
    Bell’s country of origin. Additional to the substantial literature on this
    episode may now be added the judicious Randolph Schwabe’s Diary
    entry for 25 April 1938, describing the Chelsea Arts Club Annual
    Dinner:
    [Henry] Rushbury was in the Chair, drunk as an owl[,] maudlin,
    illiterate and tedious. I heard someone say ‘What a Chairman!
    What an R.A.!’ and was sorry for it. Llewellyn whom
    Rush[bury] soft-soaped, made a tactless speech about Wyndham
    Lewis, pretending not to know him as an artist: said he had
    looked him up in Who’s Who and that he was described therein as
    an author: also that not one hand on the hanging committee was
    raised for W.L.’s picture – a circumstance that it would become
    the R.A. better to suppress.’
    Lewis’s comment (in The Times) on Churchill’s 1938 speech, after Augustus John had resigned as RA in protest at his portrait’s rejection, was that: ‘Even the most resounding denunciations poured forth by mere artists, however famous, will just roll off the back of the proverbial duck, so long as next minute an eminent ex-Minister of State can be found to turn on the …. romantic Parliamentary rhetoric.’

    • Dear Edward, I don’t know why the formatting has gone awry, but you are correct that Churchill was hostile to artists resigning from the RA (presumably a reference to Augustus John) and was also pretty rude about Stanley Spencer’s work in the review of the Summer Exhibiition he was asked to write for the Daily Mail. Charles

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