A “Paintatous” Masterpiece: Paul Rafferty on Churchill’s Riviera Art

A “Paintatous” Masterpiece: Paul Rafferty on Churchill’s Riviera Art

Paul Raf­fer­ty, Win­ston Churchill: Paint­ing on the French Riv­ieraLon­don: Uni­corn Pub­lish­ing, 2020, 208 pages. $50. Excerpt­ed from a review for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. To view the orig­i­nal, with more illus­tra­tions, please click here.

A work of art on Churchill’s art

This beau­ti­ful book com­bines Churchill’s favorite French paint­ing venues with fas­tid­i­ous research on their loca­tions. The hor­i­zon­tal for­mat blends qual­i­ty bind­ing with bril­liant col­or on thick, coat­ed paper, and the price is a bar­gain. Paul Raf­fer­ty, him­self an artist, brings Churchill’s oils alive as adjuncts to WSC’s per­son­al­i­ty. (N.B.: this writer played a minor part in ver­i­fy­ing quotations.)

The book’s forte is its “then and now” jux­ta­po­si­tion of Churchill’s art with pho­tos of the pre­cise venues. Again and again, the eye feasts on dou­ble-page spreads near­ly two feet wide, show­ing a Churchill paint­ing along­side the very spot today. Find­ing those spots often required exhaus­tive research and exploration.

Some­times, Raf­fer­ty relied on pho­tos Churchill had snapped to allow him to fin­ish a por­trait back at his stu­dio. Famil­iar­i­ty with the area helped locate many spots. Occa­sion­al­ly a passer­by would know where Sir Win­ston paint­ed. But more often, it required Sher­lock­ian sleuthing, some­times result­ing in bizarre adventures.

In search of the “Red Rocks”

Rafferty
Raf­fer­ty found “Red Rocks, L’Esterel,” pho­tograph­ing the exact scene and pro­por­tions as they are today. (Par­don the fuzzy web repro­duc­tion; in the book these pho­tos are razor-sharp.)

Raf­fer­ty car­ried 100 lam­i­nat­ed cards of elu­sive paint­ings to help him “reac­quire” Churchill’s tar­gets. Among the elu­sive was “Red Rocks, L’Esterel.” There the whole coast­line is red rocks! With two artist friends he drove along, vain­ly search­ing. Final­ly they stopped at one last lay-by. There they were! Paul and his friends decid­ed this was one scene they would try their hands at paint­ing themselves:

Ven­tur­ing down to see if access was pos­si­ble, we came upon a nud­ist beach, much to our—and their—surprise…. We climbed over the cliff and down into the emp­ty cove, with only piles of drift­wood lying around. We began paint­ing and after an hour or so I looked up to see a naked woman on top of the ridge we had just climbed over. She waved, prob­a­bly won­der­ing what we were doing: I waved back, cer­tain­ly won­der­ing what she was doing. I returned to my paint­ing and sug­gest­ed to the oth­ers, “You don’t see that, paint­ing in Trafal­gar Square.”

Mentors and paraphernalia

The depth of research is not con­fined to venues. Raf­fer­ty devotes pages to Riv­iera artist men­tors, like Sir William Nichol­sonJohn and Hazel Lav­ery and Alfred Munnings. Oth­er pages illus­trate his equip­ment, includ­ing his trav­el­ing easels, brush­es, paint­box­es and oils, even his Stet­son hat.

Most of Churchill’s oil paints came from his “colour­man” Willy Sax. Hav­ing tried Sax’s oils, WSC became devot­ed. In his famous essay, Paint­ing as a Pas­time, he com­pared oil paint­ing to a mil­i­tary campaign:

You have a medi­um at your dis­pos­al which offers real pow­er, if you only can find out how to use it…. You need not build down­wards awk­ward­ly from white paper to your dark­est dark…. strike where you please, begin­ning if you will with a mod­er­ate cen­tral arrange­ment of mid­dle tones, and then hurl­ing in the extremes when the psy­cho­log­i­cal moment comes. Last­ly, the pig­ment itself is such nice stuff to han­dle (if it does not retaliate).

In one of his let­ters to Sax he asks for “six tubes garance (Rose Mad­der), Rose Dorée or Pink Mad­der, two tubes Neu­tral Tint, four tubes Pale Vio­let Cobalt.” This reminds us of his dia­logue with Field Mar­shal Alexan­derpaint­ing togeth­er at Lake Como. “I always use just a touch of Rose Mad­der; do you use Rose Mad­der, Win­ston?” “But of course, Alex, I always use Rose Madder.”

Rafferty on the Churchill trail

RaffertyA dou­ble page spread (right) offers a map show­ing the amaz­ing breadth of the Riv­iera places Churchill paint­ed. Some are famil­iar: Three favorites were Roque­brune-Cap-Mar­tin: “La Pausa” (Emery and Wendy Reves) “Les Zoraïdes” (Daisy Fel­lowes) and “La Drag­onnière” (Lord Rother­mere). Then there were Lord Beaver­brook’s “La Cap­ponci­na” at Cap d’Ail, and Max­ine Elliott’s Chȃteau de l’Horizon, in Golfe-Juan.

Raf­fer­ty also tracked the more obscure places, such as Con­sue­lo Bal­san’s vil­la near Eze, and Ralph Cur­tis’s “Vil­la Sylvia” at St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Churchill paint­ed church­es and chapels, like St.-Paul-de-Vence, and loved water scenes. The Riv­er Loup in the Alps Mar­itimes whet­ted his pas­sion for depict­ing water. He loved and paint­ed cer­tain pre­ferred restau­rants, like Restau­rant Philip at Fontaine-de-Vau­cluse in Provence. Its pro­pri­etor, aged 92, still remem­bers him: a gourmet who would order from the menu. He par­tic­u­lar­ly fan­cied the trout that abound­ed in the cold river—which again excit­ed his artists’s eye.

The work continues

Sati­at­ed with this vivid dis­play of artistry and eru­di­tion, the read­er is dis­ap­point­ed to get to the end. No wor­ries. Just flip the book over and start again. There is so much detail, so many amaz­ing com­par­isons of then and now, that it always seems fresh and new. Even triv­ia, such as Churchill’s motor­cars (a side­line of this writer) gets some attention.

Rafferty
Arriv­ing at La Pausa in his Hum­ber Hawk, a present from Lord Rootes, 1957. (Pho­to cour­tesy Paul Rafferty)

I’d nev­er seen a pho­to of his 1956 Hum­ber Hawk estate car, pre­sent­ed by his friend Lord Rootes. Churchill was rumored to have used it to haul his paint­ing gear on the Riv­iera. Sure enough, Raf­fer­ty shows him seat­ed in the Hawk, arriv­ing at Vil­la La Pausa, no doubt dri­ven by his faith­ful body­guard Sergeant Murray.

And the work is not com­plete. In the back of the book Raf­fe­ty offers a dozen Churchill paint­ings not yet pin­point­ed. They are “the elu­sive ones still to find.” Per­haps there will be a future adden­dum, with these paint­ings matched to vivid pho­tographs of the venues today. It would be fun, even if only online, per­haps here. We’ll be hop­ing for it.

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