CHURCHILL by David Cannadine


The Statesman as Artist
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Winston Churchill was a skilled painter, albeit an amateur, and his still enormous fan base will welcome this mixed bag of writings about his hobby.

There is nothing bland about his paintings. As British Academy president Cannadine (History/Princeton Univ.; Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906, 2018, etc.) writes, “like his speeches, they were often bright, warm, vivid, highly colored and illuminated creations, full of arresting contrasts between the light and the dark, the sunshine and the shadows.” The editor begins with a fine 50-page history of Churchill’s fascination with painting—not taken up until he was 40—and then assembles his writing and speeches on the subject before concluding with a few essays by others, including Thomas Bodkin and John Rothenstein. The quality varies from delightful to inconsequential. The latter group includes several 1930s newspaper reviews of annual Royal Academy Exhibitions in which he chats about paintings by artists mostly unknown to even knowledgeable readers. Illustrations of these works would help, but they are not included in the text. A dozen short speeches, mostly to audiences of artists, are solid enough, filled with elements such as wit, scholarship, worldly knowledge, and colorful imagery and insights. Although an amateur painter, he was a professional writer, as demonstrated by a superb essay on the pleasures of painting. Despite an excess of charisma and self-regard, Churchill loved his paintings without implying that they were works of genius, and he always deferred to professionals, sometimes grabbing his palette to correct a defect on the spot. Returning the favor, some critics and artists agree that he took art seriously and showed modest talents. “While he never claimed to be a great artist,” writes Cannadine, “painting…furnished an essential element of his latter-day public persona as a veritable Renaissance man of exceptionally varied accomplishments.”

Well-illustrated miscellaneous Churchill-iana, some of it good.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4729-4521-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2018


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