London: Dorothy Wilding Portraits Limited, 1943. Photograph. This is a signed original studio print of Dorothy Wilding’s striking Second World War portrait of Clementine S. Churchill, wife of then-wartime British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill. The portrait is signed and dated “Clementine S. Churchill | 1945” on the mount.
The print measures 8 x 6 inches (20.3 x 15.2 cm), mounted on a layer of gold tinted card (characteristic of Wilding presentation) in turn mounted on heavy card measuring 10 x 7.375 inches (25.4 x 18.7 cm). Wilding’s distinctive signature, in facsimile, is printed at the lower left of the verso. Wilding’s 4.5 x 2.75 inch (11.4 x 7 cm) printed studio label is affixed to the upper verso center. On the label the address is corrected, “Twenty Two” crossed out and replaced with “33” Old Bond Street, and the photograph number – “012065Q” – is written in pencil. The National Portrait Gallery dates this portrait of Clementine to 5 November 1943.
Condition of the print is excellent, as is the signed mount. The print shows only the most trivial hints of wear at the lower right corner. No appreciable scratches or blemishes to the print are visible even under raking light. The only wear to the card mount is a tiny indentation along the top edge. Clementine’s dated signature remains distinct, only lightly age-toned. The rough surface of the heavy card mount verso is lightly soiled with abrasion to the upper right of Wilding’s studio label and a loss to the upper right corner of the label. There is indecipherable pencil notation at the upper left of the verso. The print is housed in a removable, archival mylar sleeve within a rigid, crimson cloth folder.
This portrait convenes two striking women of early-twentieth century Britain. Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill (née Hozier), Baroness Spencer-Churchill, first met Winston Churchill at a ball in 1904, where he made a poor impression. In March 1908 she was placed next to Winston at a dinner party, where he apparently made a better impression; they married on 12 September 1908. Their marriage brought five children. To their lifelong partnership Clementine brought "a shrewd political intelligence. She supplied balance to Churchill at two levels: her more equable nature ensured that she moderated the depth of his depressions, and her good judgment helped to ward off political mistakes." (ODNB)
Clementine was “born into impecunious aristocracy” and had been “the target of cruel snobbery”, which likely served as preparation for the slings and arrows inherent to a life spent with Winston Churchill. Winston’s life and career were tumultuous and relentlessly eventful, so Clementine's married life was inherently not without stress, challenges, and sadness. Nonetheless, their marriage appears to have been a truly effective and intimate partnership. ‘Marriage was her vocation’, said a newspaper leading article at her death. (The Times, 13 Dec 1977)
Like her subject in this portrait, the photographer, Dorothy Frances Edith Wilding (1893-1976) became an intrepid and undaunted presence in her own milieu. Wilding bought her first camera and tripod at age 16 and by age 21 had saved enough to open her first studio. Her business grew and she maintained a “loyal and talented” staff – “almost always women” – who adopted and propagated her idiosyncratic style.
“Prosperity was guaranteed by a series of royal sittings starting in 1928. Wilding became the first woman to be appointed as the Official Royal Photographer for the 1937 coronation of George VI. Her 1952 coronation portrait of Elizabeth II was the basis for the design on British postage stamps.
In 1937 Wilding opened a second studio in New York. Her Bond Street studio was bombed in 1940, which destroyed almost all her early negatives, prints, and records. Her autobiography In Pursuit of Perfection was published in 1958 and her surviving archives are held by the National Portrait Gallery. (ODNB, NPG). Item #006605