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In 1954 the members of Parliament commissioned a portrait of Winston Churchill by Graham Sutherland to present to the then prime minister on the occasion of his 80th birthday which would take place that year. Commencing in late August, Churchill sat eight times for Sutherland to paint his portrait. The completed painting was presented to Churchill by Clement Attlee, on behalf of both Houses of Parliament, in a ceremony held on Churchill’s 80th birthday on November 30, 1954 at Westminster Hall. (The portrait is unveiled at 2:37 on the above video). The portrait proved controversial. While praised by some art critics, it was disliked by the public and despised by Churchill and his family. At the time, Churchill said, “The portrait is a great example of modern art. It certainly combines force and candor,” but privately remarked that he thought it made him look “half-witted.” The portrait was never seen again after the presentation and in January 1978, after the death of her mother the month before, Churchill’s daughter Lady Soames revealed that Clementine Churchill had destroyed the painting on her own initiative prior to Winston’s death in 1965. Sutherland called the destruction “without question an act of vandalism.”

In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph the actual fate of the Sutherland portrait is revealed by Sonia Purnell, author of First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill. During her research, Purnell discovered a tape housed in the Churchill Archives in which Grace Hamblin, Clementine’s private secretary, describes burning the portrait to fulfill the wishes of Lady Churchill. The article is available here.

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