Ottawa, Canada: Yousuf Karsh, 1941. This is an original studio print of Yousuf Karsh’s wartime “Roaring Lion” photograph of Winston Churchill – one of the twentieth century’s most famous photographs by one of the world’s most famous portrait photographers. This copy is a marvelous example – a sizable print magnificently preserved within the original Karsh studio folder in which it was issued.
This 7.5 x 9.375 inch (19.1 x 23.8 cm) photograph was printed by Karsh’s studio on bright, lustrous paper and mounted by the studio on heavy card stock measuring 10.375 x 13.375 inches (26.4 x 34 cm) and stamped by Karsh’s studio on the verso. A plate mark impressed by the studio surrounding the image gives the image further depth. Karsh signed in two lines in white on the lower right margin of the photo “© Y Karsh | Ottawa.”
Condition of both the card stock and the photograph are superb, truly fine and certainly the best we have seen, with no reportable scratches, wear, or soiling. This doubtless owes to the photograph’s protection within the original Karsh studios folder in which it was issued – the first such folder we have ever encountered. The large, 10.625 x 13.625 inch (27 x 34.6 cm) folder is of heavy, tan and grey cardstock. On the front cover, printed in grey on the left, is “KARSH Portraitist” while on the right is the Ottawa Coat of arms below the words “BY APPOINTMENT”. “Ottawa” is typed at the lower right of the front cover. Somewhat amusingly given all the declamatory Canadianness of the front cover, “MADE IN U.S.A.” is printed discreetly at the bottom of the rear cover. Within, two folding tabs gently secure the print. The folder is complete with little wear and light, superficial soiling.
This iconic image was captured on 30 December 1941 in Ottawa, Canada. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill braved a perilous crossing of the U-Boat-plagued Atlantic. He addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress on 26 December 1941 and both houses of the Canadian Parliament on 30 December.
Thrust into the historic moment was 33-year-old Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002). Born in Armenian Turkey, Karsh had fled on foot with his family to Syria before immigrating to Canada in 1924 as a refugee. After his speech to the Canadian Parliament, Churchill was ushered to the Speaker’s Chamber, where, at the invitation of the Canadian government, Karsh had anxiously set up his camera and lighting equipment the night before. “…I approached Winston Churchill in 1941 with awe… But as a photographer I had a job to be done and it must be done far too fast. Mr. Churchill… was in no mood for portraiture… He marched in scowling, and regarded my camera as he might regard the German enemy. His expression suited me perfectly, if I could capture it, but the cigar thrust between his teeth seemed somehow incompatible with such a solemn and formal occasion. Instinctively I removed the cigar. At this the Churchillian scowl deepened, the head was thrust forward belligerently, and the hand placed on the hip in an attitude of anger. So he stands in my portrait in what always seemed to me the image of England in those years, defiant and unconquerable. With a swift change of mood, he came towards me when I was finished, extending his hand and saying, ‘Well, you can certainly make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.’” (Karsh, Faces of our Time, p.38)
Karsh titled the image “The Roaring Lion.” It appeared on the cover of Life magazine and established Karsh’s international reputation. In the years that followed, Karsh went on to photograph an incredible array of the most prominent personalities of politics, science, art, and culture in the second half of the twentieth century. Karsh’s portrait of Churchill remains an archetypal portrayal of his character.
In May 2020, Sotheby's and a New York dealer managed to extract $62,500 USD for an original print signed by Karsh that lacked the original folder. We offer this signed studio print without New York City premium and hyperbole. Item #006020