Daughter of History
On Dec. 17, 2014, Sotheby’s London will present a major sale of paintings and objects from the estate of one of the most outstanding women of her era — the late Mary Soames (1922-2014). The last surviving child of Winston Churchill, Mary Soames witnessed first-hand, and often close by her father’s side, many key moments of 20th-century history.
A junior commander in the ATS during the war, she also acted as Churchill’s aide-de-camp and close confidante, becoming privy to critical wartime negotiations and meeting along the way leading figures such as de Gaulle, Eisenhower, Stalin, Montgomery, Roosevelt and Mackenzie King, many of whom became close personal friends.
Sotheby’s sale will include many of the personal possessions that Mary Soames lived with in her delightful home in London. Together, they chart Soames’ fascinating life — from her childhood at Chartwell to her service in the army during the Second World War and her later public and private life — and chronicle the remarkable relationship Soames enjoyed with her father, allowing for a unique and very moving insight into the private side of Britain’s greatest wartime leader. At the same time, Churchill’s exceptional ability as a painter is celebrated in the sale through 15 paintings, the most important and personal group of his paintings ever to come to the market.
Together, these paintings depict a sensitive and compassionate side to the great statesman, encapsulating his zest for life and the immense pleasure that painting gave him. Each of the pictures captures deeply personal moments in Churchill’s life: his contentment at Chartwell, his family home for 40 years overlooking the Weald of Kent; his love of the gardens; holidays abroad, particularly in France, a country he greatly loved; the friends he visited and houses where he stayed on these travels.
Winston Churchill discovered painting when he was 40, in the wake of the debacle of the 1915 Dardanelles campaign, which, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he had been responsible for instigating. From this moment on, painting was to form an essential part of his life and he rarely travelled without his paintbox.
On many occasions — both in his political and in his private life — the “Muse of Painting came to his rescue.”1 As Soames said, “Painting not only opened up for my father a complete new world of colour, of light and shade, of proportion and perspective, but I am convinced this compelling occupation played a real part in enabling him to confront storms, ride out depressions, and to rise above the rough passages of his political life.”
With estimates ranging from £40 to £400,000, the 280-lot sale will also include decorative arts (furniture, ceramics, silver, objects of vertu), jewelry, books, manuscripts and photographs. Soames played a key role, both in safeguarding and perpetuating her father’s legacy in the postwar decades and in bringing his paintings to a wider public audience. As the 50th year since Sir Winston Churchill’s death approaches, it is a huge honour to have been entrusted with this sale.
1. Sir Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime, Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ltd., Aylesbury and London, 1949
Guest History Editor
Frances Christie is the head of modern and postwar British art at Sotheby’s, where for 12 years she has been closely involved in the sale of many major British collections to come to market. Highlights of her career include the Collection of Lord and Lady Attenborough in 2009, the Robert Devereux Collection of Post-War British Art in 2010, and the Evill/Frost Collection in 2011, which achieved the highest ever total for a sale of modern and postwar British art.