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Artists Who Started Late in Life: Winston Churchill

Updated on September 10, 2015
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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Art can be therapy.

There is time for everything you deem important. I remember once my grown daughter asked me how I had money for photographs, camera, film, and developing, when they were children, knowing that our income was so tight. I told her you make money for what’s important: you budget for what’s vital to you. It’s the same with time. If art isn’t of importance, you won’t ever find the time for it. That’s the way it is.

For this artist, it is amazing that he found time for so many things and art too. But art became an important tool to help him deal with the bouts of depression he suffered all his life. Art can be very therapeutic. This is the story of Winston Churchill as an artist.

Bathing
Bathing | Source

Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.

— Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 November 1874-24 January 1965)

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. He did a lot of things in his life: Officer in the British Army, historian, writer, journalist, Prime Minister, statesman and artist. He won the Nobel Prize in literature and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. However, the artist part of the list of his accomplishments may surprise many people. He is remembered for a lot of things but artist isn’t usually at the top of that list. Most people don’t even know he was an artist too. Here is the story.

Bottlescape
Bottlescape | Source

Did you know Winston Churchill was a painter before now?

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A premie baby

He was born two months premature, into an aristocratic family in Oxfordshire, Great Britian. He was in a hurry to greet the world. From the age of two to six, Churchill lived in Dublin, where his father was private secretary to his grandfather, the Viceroy. This gave him occasion to see military parades and develop a fascination with military matters.

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.

— Winston Churchill
Churchill painting.
Churchill painting. | Source

Teased for his lisp and red hair.

The boy had a lateral lisp that continued throughout his life and a stutter that some described as severe and astonishing. This had to have contributed to his troubles in school. He was sent to three independent schools and his academic record was generally poor, for which he was punished. He was nicknamed Copperknob for his red hair color. Though he did poorly in his schoolwork, he loved literature and the English language. When his father died at the age of 45, he became convinced that he too would die young and decided he had better make his mark in the world as soon as possible. I think all these things added to the bouts with depression he faced and learned to deal with aided by art.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

— Winston Churchill
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Military Officer and Journalist

After school he applied to attend the Royal Military College and had to take the entrance exam three times before passing. He worked hard and managed to graduate 8th in a class of 150. He became an officer in the cavalry but still felt he didn’t have enough income to support a life style equal to other officers. This is one of the reasons he took an interest as a war correspondent. His writing brought him public attention and earned a significant additional income for him. He not only wrote for the several London papers but also books about the campaigns that he was in. While in the Cuban War for Independence, he acquired a taste for Havana cigars, which he smoked the rest of his life. During this time he wrote several books including one about his early life. Most of the accurate information about his life comes from these books. He continued writing for the journalistic papers during the several wars and campaigns Great Britain was involved in. He also continued writing books, including a two-volume biography of his father that received public acclaim.

Lake Near Breccles in Autumn
Lake Near Breccles in Autumn | Source

Let us therefore brace ourselves to out duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.”

— Winston Churchill

Prime Minister

Serving as Prime Minister during the Second World War was hard on his health, as it was on many people. He suffered a mild heart attack in 1941 and even a mild stroke later in 1949. Still he pushed himself to maintain an active public life almost till his death.He married and had 4 children, one of which died very young. There is so much more to put into his story. There is so much to say about these years that I couldn’t possibly find space to include it all so I will just jump into the artistic endeavors.

Learning to paint in his late 30's

The most interesting thing for me was that in-between his public offices and military career or writing for newspapers, he painted. As he describes it in his autobiography, he just wasn’t the type to sit and do nothing. So the idea struck him in his late 30s that he had always wanted to learn how to paint and had, until then, never had the time for it. So he sent his butler to the store to buy all the latest equipment for this endeavor. (That must be nice, to send your butler to the store.) When he returned, he set up the easel, paints and brushes out in the garden for Churchill to paint. Churchill looked around at the beautiful English country garden: flowers, pond, trees. He picked up a brush and looked down at the paints. Where to begin? He remembered from school that the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue, so he squeezed out these colors on his pallet. There before him was a perfect, pristine, white canvas waiting to receive the master’s touch.

Churchill painting.
Churchill painting. | Source
Devastation during WWII.
Devastation during WWII. | Source

I don't know what I'm doing.

And that’s when it hit him. He didn’t know what he was doing. Where are you supposed to begin anyway? What if he ruined it? What if people laughed? What if he stinks at this? And so he was paralyzed, standing there unable to do anything for quite some time.

My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.

— Winston Churchill
Randolph Churchill reading.
Randolph Churchill reading. | Source

Elderly lady to help

As the story goes, people then began arriving for tea. Lady Churchill was entertaining the guests, when one of them spied Churchill out in the garden and went out to see. She waddled up to him and asked what he was doing. Not wanting the interruption and definitely not wanting anyone to see what he was doing, he grumbled, “Nothing.” At this point she saw that indeed he was doing nothing, so she laughed. It’s probably not wise to laugh at Sir Winston Churchill, but she did. She saw that he was stuck so she snatched the brush out of his hand. He was stunned. Then she looked down at the three colors squeezed out neatly on his pallet and she stirred them together. As any artist knows, when you mix red, yellow and blue together, you get a brown goopy mud. He couldn’t believe what she was doing to his paints. Then she looked up at his canvas and with her mud she made three swipes at his perfect white canvas, put the brush back into his hand and waddled back toward the house. He was dumbfounded.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

— Winston Churchill
Source

A distinct improvement

In his autobiography he wrote that if he had his wits about him, he would have run after her, tackled her to the ground and beat her up about the head and shoulders. But as he watched the brown goop dripping down his pristine white canvas, he realized she had done him a tremendous favor. Anything he painted now would be a distinct improvement.

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The Power of the White

You see, she had destroyed the Power of the White. We artists know that the first mark is the hardest because the Power of the White is so strong. It is so perfect that you begin to doubt yourself, asking who do I think I am. You are afraid to make the mark but after you do, after you destroy the Power of the White, drawing anything becomes easier. Many of us draw a line or a swipe even if it is something to be erased later, just to mar the surface and destroy that White.

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Go, destroy the White!

When I taught beginners I would come with the drawings already begun so that we could jump right into painting. Afterward my encouraged beginners would go out and buy all the materials on my list and take them home ready to paint for themselves and suddenly feel ill equipped. They don’t realize it is the Power of the White, not lack of confidence they need to overcome. So I started telling this Winston Churchill story on the first day of classes so people would know what to expect when they got home with their white paper.

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Writers have this problem too.

The Power of the White is a similar phenomenon that writers go through seeing the perfect white paper with nothing written on it. It is imposing and blaring, sometimes paralyzing. You have to be bold, be brave and make your mark even if you don’t want the first line, the first sentence to remain in the end.

I love this story because Churchill explains better than I have ever heard before the problem with beginning as an artist. It isn’t the skill, talent or even confidence, that holds us back but an obscure power we give to perfect white things. Go, therefore, and destroy the White wherever you find it, my friend.

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Race course Nice.
Race course Nice. | Source

A haven and escape.

Churchill did well as an artist mostly as a hobby and sometimes selling his work. He took great pleasure in his painting. Art became a haven and a place to overcome his spells of depression, from which he suffered all his life. He is best known for his Impressionist scenes of landscape, which he painted while on holiday in France, Egypt, or Morocco. Many are in private collections and museums today.

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      grand old lady,

      I am a great fan of Winston Churchill as well, even if I am American. He was amazing in everything he did including art. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      2 years ago from Philippines

      A most interesting hub. I am a great fan of Winston Churchill:)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      CorneliaMladenova,

      Thank you. I'm so glad to be informative. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 

      2 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Amazing hub, Denise. Never had an idea about Churchill art. I thought he was only distinguished politician and military man. His paintings are so beautiful. :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      ladyguitarpicker,

      Thank you for checking this out. I agree, we make time for what's important to us, busy or not.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      I have read many books on the war and Churchill but never knew he was an artist. Most people who are busy find time for what they love. Very interesting . Stella

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      lawrence01,

      Thank you. I agree that art was his release. I think it is for many people. It seems we regulate art as something we only have time for when we retire, but there is so much therapy there if you would only allow time for it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Denise

      Churchill is one of my heroes! Anything about him is like a magnet for me.

      I loved this hub and the way you let Winston speak for himself, he was enigmatic in many ways but art was his 'release'

      The 'power of the white' was just the kind of thing Churchill would say.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Sara Copley,

      Thank you. I wish I could say that I made that up but it was actually Churchill who wrote about it. He was genius. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Sara Copley profile image

      Sara Copley 

      3 years ago

      What a fascinating story! I knew Churchill painted but had never seen any of his paintings before. They are beautiful! The part about the power of white was very good, I will now destroy the white with confidence! Thanks for the great hub!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      drbj,

      I think everyone has several amazing facets to them but we usually only remember people for one or two. Yet we are all so much more. It is nice to see new facets to people we only thought of as one way, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      3 years ago from south Florida

      Churchill was a remarkable man and a creative statesman and now I have learned from your fascinating account, that he was a remarkable artist as well. Thanks for this well-written tribute and images.

    • florypaula profile image

      Paula 

      3 years ago

      You should have taken that picture :)) Nice story Denise.

      Have a nice day :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      florypaula,

      Oh, you are so correct about children. They have no fear. It's a shame we have to teach them that. I remember my 18 month old toddler had finger painted with her own diarrhea on the walls next to her crib. It was so clever and artistic a design I hated to get mad at her and wash it off. In retrospect, I should have taken a photo of it to blackmail her with later. I think those who become artist later in life have to forget the fear to be able to dive in. Grandma Moses strikes me as one who never had any fear, but who knows. Thanks for commenting on Churchill.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • florypaula profile image

      Paula 

      3 years ago

      This is why I think children have an advantage in art, because they are not afraid to destroy the power of the white, they actually can't wait to set their print on things no matter if we are talking about painting, photographing, filming, and so on. Grownups tend to overthink everything and this is when fears appear and most of the time they take over.

      If so many people made it after starting later in life than we should see comfort in this to start our won late life story.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kathy T,

      Great to hear it. I think deep down we all have a passion for art. We are visual people always looking at things and being bombarded with images and advertising all day long. Art only lets us stop and "smell the roses" for a few minutes longer, that's all. thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kathy T profile image

      Katharyne Peckham 

      3 years ago from Boston, MA.

      Great article, lots of details I didn't know I have a passion for art

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Blossom, my friend, thank you for saying so. I believe he was certainly remarkable and his work a thing of beauty. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      BarbaraCasey,

      I think some are even for sale/auction. Imagine having been given a gift of a painting by Churchill. Today it would be worth a lot of money. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Ilonagarden,

      Thank you. He was certainly brilliant. Thank you for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Larry Rankin,

      I'm so happy you got something out of this. I really appreciate what a dynamic and extraordinary person he was too. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      WillStarr,

      Thank you. I know what you mean. The biographies I've seen get so bogged down on ALL that he did, the average reader misses a lot. I just wanted to focus on his art and what led up to it. I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting,

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Readmikenow,

      I'm overjoyed that you liked it. Yeah, I hear that a lot, that people heard he painted but didn't care to look into what he painted. Now you have seen it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thank you for an interesting article. I loved the paintings that you chose, he was such a versatile man and painting can really be therapy as well as producing something of beauty to share.

    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 

      3 years ago

      Oh, very cool. I'd seen photos of Churchill in the act of painting, but I'd never seen his actual paintings before. Thank you.

    • Ilonagarden profile image

      Ilona E 

      3 years ago from Ohio

      I think his painting is brilliant, which matches the rest of him. Churchill is one of my heroes.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Churchill is certainly one of the most fascinating and dynamic historical figures to ever have lived.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      What is it about a blank canvas that is so intimidating?

      Churchill is a favorite historical character for me, and while I knew about this aspect of his life, this is the first time I've seen and read about it in such fine detail, so well done, Denise!

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 

      3 years ago

      Winston Churchill was an incredible person. I read he painted, but didn't think much of it. This really let me know more about his painting. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      phoenix2327,

      It is surprising, isn't it? He certainly packed a lot of accomplishment into his life. I'm always amazed at how much people can get done if they set their minds to it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      You're welcome, Rachael. I think it is a bit of both. Talent, which he clearly had but was using in the area of writing and journalism; and learning the techniques, which anyone can do if you want to spend time doing it. Like learning the piano... anyone can, but a few excel at it because there is talent there too. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Ann, I'm so happy you enjoyed this story. It is one of my favorites about the Power of the White. I will often go out and spend big bucks on a really good piece of watercolor paper, with an image in mind for it and get paralyzed when I'm ready to start. It is indeed powerful! Thanks so much for commenting and I hope you like the others in the series as much as you liked this one.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 years ago from United Kingdom

      I had no idea Churchill was a painter as well. He truly was a remarkable human being. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into this side of him.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      That was a surprise to me that Winston Churchill was a painter. I don't understand how someone can 'learn' to paint. I think it's a God given talent, but if you can lean it I would really love to learn. Thanks for sharing this story.

      Blessings to you.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      Very interesting, Denise. I knew Churchill was a painter but I didn't know about how he started; a great story!

      I think many people in power take up drawing or painting as an escape; it's something many can take to or at least have a go at and you don't have to be good to enjoy it. He, however, was good as is shown by your illustrations.

      The power of White is indeed strong. I've been trying some sketches today and almost had to wrench the colour from the pastels to make my first strokes!

      I've noticed this series you're doing and have intended to read but got side-tracked by a very busy summer; now I shall make my way through them with pleasure, as I have some R&R away from home.

      Thanks for an entertaining hub.

      Ann

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