Winston Churchill began his love affair with painting in his 40's, a mid disastrous circumstance. As First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915, he was deeply involved in a campaign in the Dardanelles that could have shortened the course of a bloody world war. But when the mission failed, with great loss of life, Chwchill paid the price, both publicly and privately. He was removed from the admiralty and effectively sidelined.
Overwhelmed by the catastrophe, he retired with his family to Hoe Farm, a country retreat in Surrey. There, as Churchill later recalled, "The muse of painting came to my rescue!"
Wandering in the garden one day, he chanced upon his sister-in-law sketching with watercolors. He watched her for a few minutes, then borrowed her brush and tried his hand.
Churchill soon decided to experiment with oils. At that time, John Lavery一a Churchill neighbor and celebrated painter-was tutoring Churchill in his art. Later, Lavery said of his unusual pupil, "Had he chosen painting instead of statesmanship, I believe he would have been a great master with the brush."
In painting, Churchill had discovered a companion with whom he was to walk for the greater part of the years that remained to him.
Historians have called the decade after 1929, when the Conservative government fell and Winston was out of office, his wilderness years. Politically he may have been wandering in barren places, a lonely fighter trying to awaken Britain to the menace of Hitler, but artistically that wilderness bore abundant fruit. During these years he often painted in the South of France. Of the 500-odd canvases extant, roughly 250 date from 1930 to 1939.
Painting remained a joy to Churchill to the end of his life. "Happy are the painters." he had written in his book Painting as a Pastime, "for they shall not be lonely. Light and color, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end of the day."