Mr. Churchill, the painter

by cheri sabraw

I’m not sure when it occurred to me to begin painting my photographs.

But in doing so, new neural pathways of thought are growing  like spring jasmine tendrils.

I am not at the helm of  my frenetic business anymore or staring at a blank screen while writing my thesis, a deadline looming in front of me like a dark and sinister twister.I have the time to re-acquaint myself with oils and canvas, brushes and pencils.

But many do not have much time, either by choice or by necessity.

Winston Churchill wrote a short book, Painting As A Pastime, a collection of short essays that was first published in 1948. I commend it to those of you looking for inspiration to create a respite from the relentless march of your responsibilities.

Most of us, I would hope, are familiar with the excruciating stress that Churchill experienced as a public servant in his early life but even more so as the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. How was he able to be such a steady leader in such unstable  times?

He love affair helped.

With painting, that is.

He began painting in 1925 and continued for fifty years. His paints traveled with him to North Africa to meet Roosevelt,  to the battlefield,  and to his home, Chartwell.

In Painting As A Pastime, he advocates rescuing your brain and emotions with something different.

 ” The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is therefore a policy of first importance to a public man. But this is not a business that can be undertaken in a day or swiftly improvised by a mere command of the will.”

He writes about mental fatigue and about mental rejuvenation.

“A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.”

He continues.

” To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real. It is no use starting late in life to say,’ I will take an interest in this or that.’ Such an attempt only aggravates the strain of mental effort. A man may acquire great knowledge or topics unconnected with his daily work, and yet hardly get any benefit or relief. It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.”

The Roman poet Horace has been credited with this quotation that, I might add, is included in the Publisher’s Preface  to Painting As A Pastime:

“Dare to great (wise): begin!”


My friends, the Clydes, who live at the bottom of our road

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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15 Responses to Mr. Churchill, the painter

  1. Christopher says:

    Churchill wasn’t the only example of a great world statesman who was also a painter.

    Another very prominent example is your own (America’s) George W Bush, who, because of his contribution to world history, has been called by many, “the Churchill of the 21st century”.

    It was his reading of Churchill’s “Painting As A Pastime” that inspired George W that he could become as great a painter as he had been a world statesman. Dubya’s efforts have paid off, because – as you probably know already – he’s recently had published a book of his oil paintings.

    It’s not for nothing, then, that Dubya considered Churchill one of the two people who influenced him most (the other was Jesus, although there’s no evidence Jesus could paint).

  2. Of course I knew and have seen some of Churchill’s paintings some years ago, but have not read the book. I knew too that GEORGE w. Painted. Wonderful also that so many celebrities are painting. You and the Clydes may become famous!

    • Cheri says:

      Ha! If all I paint are Clydesdales, I might get pretty good, right? Churchill’s paintings are terrific; Dubya’s paintings are, well, well, well…..

  3. Richard says:

    Churchill had a studio at Chartwell that I have visited many times. There are some of his
    paintings there strewn around apparently haphazardly. I confess to having been somewhat disappointed until I read Mary Soame’s illustrated book of his paintings. He never threw anything away, apparently, and so his failures have been passed down as well as his successes.

    The man himself is judged by his failures, (notably The Dardanelles, a well-intentioned disaster), which he never sought to airbrush, as well as his successes. Perhaps his most significant failure was in the 1945 general election, which he accepted magnanimously as the true democrat that he was, although it hit him very hard. He had plans for “winning the peace” and for major social reforms. Again, he sought solace in painting.

    Here is an account of a famous story:

    In 1915, after the debacle in the Dardanelles, and with an ugly war transpiring across the English Channel, Winston Churchill was let go from the British Admiralty. Anxious to relax his mind and emotions, he purchased a box of oil paints. In his garden at Hoe Farm, Godalming, Surrey, he faced for the first time a white canvas and laid a spot of blue sky “the size of a bean” somewhere on the upper half. “My hand,” he said, “seemed arrested by a silent veto.” While contemplating his commitment, he heard a car in the driveway. It was Lady Lavery, the wife of the painter Sir John Lavery. A well-known artist herself, she grabbed the largest of Winston’s new brushes and slathered on the blue sky in a trice. This event prompted Winston to conclude that the most important thing for an artist to have was “audacity.”

    Another of his hobbies was bricklaying, and at Chartwell you can see a brick wall he built, although I believe he had some help.

    Whatever his faults, and there were many, the world can be forever grateful that he inspired a nation and stood alone in the face of a fascist monster, despite diminutive commentators who seek to diminish him through cynical or snide distortions of the plain realities.

    As to hobbies, I have to say I have none – only pastimes. I feel duly reprimanded.

    • Cheri says:

      And the good news is that WSC is back in the Oval Office!
      When we come to the UK next, we will stay with you and Glenys (since you did invite us) and go to Chartwell. I really want to see it after my most recent read of Clementine.

      Your hobby is reading. Churchill talks about this in the first essay of Pastimes. Maybe you should start painting Glenys’ garden!

      • Richard says:

        We look forward to yur visit.

        Reading was so central to my work that it must be excluded as a hobby under the mental fatigue provision you cite.

  4. Richard says:

    Here are Churchill’s words recounting the above incident with Lady Lavery, taken from Mary Soames’ book quoting Painting as a Pastime, also quoted by you:

    very gingerly I mixed a little blue paint on the palette with a very small brush, and then with infinite precaution made a mark about as big as a bean upon the affronted snow-white shield. It was a challenge, a deliberate challenge; but so subdued, so halting, indeed so catalyptic, that it deserved no response. At that moment the loud approaching sound of a motor-car was heard on the drive. From this chariot there stepped swiftly and lightly none other than the gifted wife of Sir John lavery. ‘Painting! But what are you hesitating about. Let me have a brush – the big one.’ Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and the white, frantic flourish into the palette – clean no longer – then several large, fierce strokes and slashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas. Anyone could see that it could not hit back. No evil fate avenged the jaunty violence. The canvas grinned in helplessness before me. The spell was broken. The sickly inhibitions rolled away. I seized the largest brush and fell upon my victim with Berserk fury. I have never felt in awe of a canvas since.

    One recalls Beethoven’s instruction to “Take life by the throat!”

    Perhaps we should not allow it to pass that Hitler also was a painter.

    • Cheri says:

      I love the quotation you posted for my readers. I couldn’t agree more with Sir John Lavery’s wife. Go for it. If you hate the result, keep working on it. I am not inclined to throw canvases away. I just keep redoing and redoing and redoing until the thickness of the paint speaks to the misery lying beneath. Recently, I hung one in our garage bathroom. Our gardener, Juan, complimented me on it. 🙂

  5. shoreacres says:

    Speaking of practice, I’m presently traveling and not doing so well with the keyboard on this danged ipad. However. I love this post, and will read it twice or thrice more when I get home. What struck me is that I have something in common with Churchhill, which I never would have expected. I don’t know how to copy and paste on this gizmo, or how to easily link, so I’ll just tell you to go to. my blog and search for my very first post that’s titled Dazed and Confused. I address the twin issues of taking up a new art, and practice, there, in an unsophisticated and very short way, but it came to mind as soon as I read your selections from Churchill, so it must be related.

    And that painting is fine. Have you read the chapter on seeing in Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? She describes her experience of trying to draw a horse, and it’s hilarious. Beyond that, her observations are spot on.

    • Cheri says:

      I will do so. And safe travels, Linda, wherever you may be.

      I have been drawing horses since I was five years old. Painting them is a different story. Now I am studying their muscular structure. I have an unfinished painting of the same two Clydesdales in the photo above as they approach me (as I had apples). The painting captures their movement (which is very difficult to attempt) but something in the confirmation was wrong. I put a photo of this painting on my iPad as my screen saver, hoping that repetitive views would summon up the error. Voila! I now see the error and when I return to my home in Fremont, I will fix it immediately. It concerns the chest.

      As already shared, I owned a horse, Cricket, for 15 years. The muscle-memory of running my hands up and down her head and soft nose, over her strong shoulders, fatty rump and down the legs to her hoofs/hooves, as I did so many times, helps me draw and paint horses.
      My husband wants me to paint landscapes. Maybe.a landscape with a horse in it!

      • shoreacres says:

        In that same section, Dillard says, “The lover can see, and the knowledgeable.” That experience with Cricket confirms her point. Intellectual knowledge “about” horses helps, but love of horses — or anything else for that matter — is equally critical in the creative process. And not love in the sense of “Gosh, I really love fudge,” but love in the sense of knowing: albeit, in a different way.

  6. Cheri says:

    I am not sure I understand Dillard’s sentence, especially because of her comma. Your explanation is clarifying but is this what Dillard meant in her incomplete second clause?

  7. Brig says:

    I must get Churchill’s book. Having studied painting with a very talented lady early on, I have let that hobby go by the way in recent years. Perhaps it is time to reacquaint myself with it.

  8. Cheri says:

    Brig, I thought it was a book but in fact, it is a short essay. I downloaded it from Amazon.

    And yes, if you have a hankering to paint again, go for it. You have a lot of beautiful material just sitting right outside your doorsteps.

    Kind of expensive to get started again what with brushes and canvases, etc. I may have mentioned this elsewhere (can’t find it if I did) but I started with acrylics when I first waded in.

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