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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Robert Dex and Arts Correspondent

Study for hated Churchill portrait immortalised in The Crown set to fetch £800,000 at auction

A surviving study for a portrait of Winston Churchill that so upset the then-Prime Minister he had it burnt – a scandal famously recreated in the first series of The Crown – is expected to sell for six figures at auction.

The rare painting by artist Graham Sutherland was produced in preparation for his 1954 portrait of Churchill which the politician described as “filthy and malignant” and which was eventually destroyed by his staff.

Graham Sutherland's study of Winston Churchill for his controversial portrait (Sotheby's)

The portrait was commissioned by the House of Parliament for Churchill’s 80th birthday – one of more than 150,000 presents that flooded in from around the globe to mark the occasion – but he loathed it so much he thought it was part of a conspiracy to destroy his public image.

At the unveiling he described it with understated malice as a “striking example of modern art”.

Two years later, Churchill’s loyal secretary Grace Hamblin employed her brother to take it away and burn it in a move welcomed by the politician’s family.

Actor Stephen Dillane played Sutherland in an episode of the hit show The Crown that revolved around the painting and which won John Lithgow, who played Churchill, an Emmy Award.

This painting has been in private hands since Sutherland gave to picture framer Alfred Hecht who kept it all his life and gave it to its current owner.

André Zlattinger, Sotheby’s Head of Modern British and Irish Art said: “The name Churchill evokes for each person a different snapshot of a multifaceted man. In this rare portrait, Churchill is caught in a moment of absent-minded thoughtfulness, and together with the backstory of its creation, it gives the impression of a man truly concerned with his image.

“This version shows Churchill closer to how he wished to be perceived, his less austere and gentler side, and so it is tempting to imagine how his reaction might have differed. Having remained within the close circles of the artist and the sitter for generations, the sale of this work is an opportunity to acquire a piece of history.”

It is expected to sell for as much as £800,000 when it is auctioned at Sotheby’s on June 6.

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