London: Fox Photos, 15 June 1950. Photograph. This original press photograph captures Winston S. Churchill and his wife, Clementine, arriving at Ascot on 15 June 1950 to watch Churchill’s horse, Colonist II, race in the Ascot Gold Cup. The image, measuring 10 x 8 in (25.4 x 20.3 cm), is a gelatin silver print on matte photo paper. Condition is very good minus. The paper is crisp, clean, and free of scratches, its sole flaw being a .5 in square missing from the photo’s surface at the top edge. The verso bears the copyright stamp of “Fox Photos” and a typed caption reading “Mr and Mrs Winston Churchill whose car was involved (though not seriously) in an accident en route to the course, today attended the Ascot race meeting to watch Mr Churchill’s Colonist II run in the Gold Cup. PHOTO SHOWS: - In Ascot topper instead of the proverbial bowler WINSTON CHURCHILL arrives at the course to the cheers of the bystanders. Mrs. Churchill accompanies him.” The Fox Photos caption is dated “June 15th 1950”.
Owning racehorses was a later life manifestation of Churchill’s lifelong love of horses. At Sandhurst, training for the cavalry, Churchill graduated second in the arduous riding competition. At Omdurman he participated in “the last significant cavalry charge in British history”. He was a talented polo player who did not play his last game until age 52. And as soon as his finances allowed in the last decades of his life, Churchill kept a stable of racehorses and found some success as an owner and breeder. In 1949 the septuagenarian Churchill purchased Colonist II, a three-year-old French race horse. Colonist became something of a sensation, winning eight of his nine races in 1950, including one in which King George VI’s horse was running.
Churchill’s new hobby was not met with approval by all. Clementine wrote to a friend “I do think this is a queer new facet in Winston’s variegated life. Before he bought the horse (I can’t think why) he had hardly been on a racecourse in his life. I must say I don’t find it madly amusing.” (letter of 28 May 1951) When Colonist’s trainer suggested that Colonist be put up to stud Churchill allegedly retorted, “To stud? And have it said that the Prime Minister of Great Britain is living on the immoral earnings of a horse?” (quoted in Kay Halle, The Irrepressible Churchill, p. 241) Churchill continued to own horses throughout the remainder of his life, 38 in total, but none quite matched the success of his first. This press photo originated from Fox Photos Ltd. of London.
During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism grew as a practice, fundamentally changing the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives of physical copies of all photographs published or deemed useful for potential future use, their versos typically marked with ink stamps and notes providing provenance and captions. Photo departments would often take brush, paint, pencil, and marker to the surface of photographs themselves to edit them before publication. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #005602