London: Graphic Photo Union, July 1943. Photograph. This original press photograph captures Sir Winston S. Churchill at the 22 July 1943 unveiling of his portrait at the National Liberal Club, nearly thirty years after it was painted. The gelatin silver print on heavy matte photo paper measures 6.5 x 8.5 in (16.5 x 21.6 cm). Condition is very good plus. The paper is clean, crisp, and free of scratches with only some very minor softening to the corners. This is an extraordinary photo, the image crisp, bright, and high contrast with focus centered and fixed on Churchill.
The verso bears the copyright stamp of “Graphic Photo Union”, a published stamp and a lengthy original typed caption titled, “MR CHURCHILL UNVEILS HIS OWN PORTRAIT AT THE NATIONAL LIBERAL CLUB”. The text reads “Mr Churchill today visited the National Liberal Club to take part in the unveiling of his own portrait. The Portrait shows [a] young, slim and rather red haired Winston Churchill in the uniform of the 4th Hussars. After the last war the picture was removed from the wall and banished to the cellars. There it remained until the fall of the coalition Government when it was restored to the wall. During the raids on London the club received a direct hit. Mr Churchill’s Portrait was again removed but this time for repairs.” An additional caption reads “P.S. [picture shows] City workers mob the Prime Minister as he arrive [sic] at the National Liberal Club who become parted from Mrs Churchill seen in the background wreathed with smiles.” This photo is housed in a removable, archival mylar sleeve within a rigid, crimson cloth folder.
In the spring of 1915 an anonymous donor commissioned British artist Ernest Townsend to paint a portrait of then-First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill for the National Liberal Club. By the time the NLC Art Committee approved the project, Churchill was no longer First Lord - he had been scapegoated and forced to resign over the Dardanelles. Churchill sat for the portrait late in 1915, wearing his First Lord regalia even though he had left the post in May. Churchill is portrayed with one finger of his left hand resting on his sword hilt. He soon wielded far less ceremonial weapons; in November he joined the troops on the western front, serving as a Lt. Colonel in the trenches.
The portrait was finally delivered to the NLC in July 1916, whereupon the club spent six months waffling on a location before deciding that it was an inopportune time for a public ceremony; the painting was quietly hung in a small committee room. In 1917 Churchill was exonerated by the Dardanelles Commission, and appointed Minister of Munitions by Prime Minister Lloyd George. There was renewed discussion of a public unveiling that never occurred. By 1921 Liberal sentiment for Lloyd George's coalition government had soured to the point that both Churchill’s portrait and Lloyd George’s were removed from public display and stored in a “dry, well-ventilated place…encased in blankets”. (Jonathan Black, Winston Churchill in British Art) Churchill’s portrait was briefly rescued from the basement and hung in the heavily trafficked smoking room as he unsuccessfully stood as a Liberal candidate for Dundee, but spent Churchill’s 1924-29 tenure as Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer and Churchill’s 1930s wilderness years in obscurity.
Both portrait and subject were fully restored to prominence – the portrait in the club main staircase lobby, Churchill in 10 Downing Street - when Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940. Then, less than a year later during the Blitz, the club was hit by a German bomb, damaging the painting with shrapnel. The painting was removed for extensive repairs, and on 22 July 1943 – the day this image was captured - the nearly three decades delayed unveiling finally took place. Churchill, now nearly thirty years older, remarked upon its unveiling, that he and his portrait had both “suffered alike the vicissitudes of time and the violence of the enemy.” (Derby Daily Telegraph, 23 July 1943). Item #005234