Rare Winston Churchill painting sold by Angelina Jolie smashes auction record

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

A rare Winston Churchill painting that was gifted to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and eventually made its way into actor Angelina Jolie’s collection has become the most expensive painting by the former British prime minister to sell at auction, fetching nearly £8.3 million ($11.5 million) after fees.

The work, “Tower of Koutoubia Mosque,” was sold March 1 by the Jolie Family Collection and features the long shadows and warm tones of a sunset in Marrakech, Morroco — a favorite subject of Churchill’s to paint.

"The Tower of Koutoubia Mosque,"  a gift for former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the only painting Churchill made during World War II. The work is now the most expensive Churchill painting to sell at auction.

“The Tower of Koutoubia Mosque,” a gift for former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the only painting Churchill made during World War II. The work is now the most expensive Churchill painting to sell at auction. Credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

“Churchill first visited Morocco in 1935 where he fell in love with the quality of light there,” said Nick Orchard, head of modern British art at Christie’s in London, where the auction took place. “He felt that his paintings of the country were among his best.”

The sale more than tripled its high estimate of £2.5 million ($3.5 million). Churchill’s previous record was £1.7 million ($2.7 million) in 2014 at Sotheby’s London.

According to a source with knowledge of sale, actor Brad Pitt bought Churchill’s sunset scene as a gift to Jolie in 2011. The couple separated in 2016 after two years of marriage.

“Tower of Koutoubia Mosque” is the only painting that Churchill made between 1939 and 1945, during World War II.

In January of 1943, after jointly attending the Casablanca Conference in Morroco to strategize against Nazi Germany, Churchill convinced Roosevelt to join him in nearby Marrakech and watch the sun drop behind the Atlas Mountains. Their brief sojourn together was memorialized by the painting, which Churchill created the very next day following Roosevelt’s departure. After the conference, the two leaders demanded “unconditional surrender” from Germany, Italy and Japan — a historic declaration that had a far-reaching impact on the war.

Actor Brad Pitt bought Churchill's painting for Angelina Jolie in 2011, before they married and ultimately separated after more than a decade together.

Actor Brad Pitt bought Churchill’s painting for Angelina Jolie in 2011, before they married and ultimately separated after more than a decade together. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Pitt purchased the painting from antiques dealer Bill Rau, who previously told CNN President Roosevelt’s son had sold the piece to a filmmaker in the 1960s. According to Rau, the painting eventually ended up in New Orleans, where it was kept in a local family’s closet for more than five decades before a family member contacted his gallery, M.S. Rau.

“The painting depicts the very moment the two world leaders shared as they viewed the majestic landscape of Marrakech as the sun set over the Atlas Mountains, and to know Churchill gifted the painting to FDR after their time together excited me even more,” Rau said.
"Scene at Marrakech," another Morrocan sunset work of Churchill's, sold for triple its high estimate during the same sale.

“Scene at Marrakech,” another Morrocan sunset work of Churchill’s, sold for triple its high estimate during the same sale. Credit: courtesy Christie’s

Churchill began painting well into adulthood, around age 40, following a failed naval attack during World War I that cost him his title of First Lord of the Admiralty. Nevertheless, he was prolific, producing over 500 works in his lifetime.

The market for the former prime minister’s art only continues to grow. In addition to “Tower of Koutoubia Mosque,” two other works of his overperformed at the Christie’s “Modern British Art” evening sale.

“Scene at Marrakech,” another light-filled composition of Churchill’s favorite place, went for close to £1.9 million ($2.6 million), and “St Paul’s Churchyard,” sold at nearly £1.1 million ($1.5 million). Both sale prices were more than triple their high estimates.

“The appetite for Winston Churchill’s artwork was demonstrated to great effect at Christie’s,” Orchard said.


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