Onassis family puts painting by Winston Churchill up for auction

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A painting by Winston Churchill that the late British Prime Minister gave to the late Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, is being put up for sale at auction for an estimated $1.5m to $2m.

The landscape, The Moat, Breccles, was painted by Churchill in 1921 and remained in his own collection for 40 years.

“He didn’t like to give paintings away, or sell them,” says Jean-Paul Engelen, the deputy chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips.

After sitting in storage for decades, the painting is going to be auctioned at Phillips New York for an estimated $1.5 million yo $2 million.

A Story of Friendship

Churchill’s son, Randolph, introduced Churchill to Onassis at a dinner in La Pausa, France, on 16 January 1956. The introduction sparked a friendship that would prompt Onassis to invite Churchill and his wife, Clementine, to a dinner party on his yacht the Christina. Churchill was not only impressed by Onassis’ hospitality, but also the yacht which he described once in a letter to his wife, Clementine, of 8 February 1956, as: “the most beautiful structure I have seen afloat.”

A close friendship between the two men developed. During the period 1958-1963 Churchill, often accompanied by his wife, made eight cruises in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic on the Christina. Onassis went to great lengths to make each cruise as easy and comfortable for the elder statesman. Celia, Sir Winston’s granddaughter, observed that her grandfather had aged considerably after his retirement and was wonderfully happy on the yacht and those pleasurable holidays appeared to give him renewed life. Onassis, apart from being one of Churchill’s great admirers, enjoyed his company and could often be found in deep conversation with Churchill, listening to his views.

While onboard the Christina, Churchill visited many locations, and it was on the yacht that he made his final visit to the United States in 1961. Onassis and his celebrated guest crossed the Atlantic from Gibraltar and cruised the West Indies before proceeding to New York City.

The Christina’s fame and allure as the original “superyacht” owes itself to such illustrious and glamorous guests as Maria Callas, The Begum of Aga Kahn, John Paul Getty, John D Rockefeller, Eva Peron, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Rudolf Nureyev, John Wayne, Greta Garbo, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, and John F Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, later Jackie Onassis, whom first met Churchill on the Christina.

Christina O Yacht
The Moat, Breccles was first mentioned in “Painting as a Pastime,” an essay written by Sir Winston Churchill, which was first published in The Strand Magazine, December 1921. Painting became his lifelong hobby and he freely admitted that it revived his spirits and, as with writing, became an antidote to his frequent bouts of depression. Churchill explained painting “as a means to relieve his mind from the demands of leadership.” He began with watercolor but soon applied himself to oils. The Moat, Breccles was one of several paintings personally selected by Churchill to be included in the essay and in 1964, was prominently featured in a film documentary, “The Other World of Winston Churchill” on the Christina.

To promote The Moat, Breccles, Phillips plans to display it alongside a replica of Onassis’s yacht bar, which was frequented by high society guests such as John D. Rockefeller, Eva Peron, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. The installation will open on June 15 at the auction house’s new Park Avenue headquarters.

*More on GCT: Paul Ioannidis, close associate of Aristotle Onassis, passes away
GCT Team

This article was researched and written by a GCT team member.