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Zoomable Image of Portrait head of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) (‘The Rocquebrune Head’), 1958

Portrait head of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) (‘The Rocquebrune Head’), 1958

David McFall (1919-88)

Portrait head of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) (‘The Rocquebrune Head’), 1958

David McFall (1919-88)

Purchase Enquiries

Phone +44(0)20 7499 6818

Email art@philipmould.com

Price:

Price on request

Materials:

Bronze

Dimensions:

14 ½ in (37 cm) high (including base)

Provenance:

Mr and Mrs Gibbs, Kensington; Gifted by the above to the previous owner.

Inscriptions:

Signed ‘McFall’ on the neck on reverse

I know he [Churchill] does not like pompous, self-important artists, so I made myself as invisible as possible…I put him on an ordinary chair instead of a rostrum which meant I had to work on my knees. And used the minimum of equipment. By persuading him I was hardly there at all, I caught his private instead of public expression...

This pensive portrait head of Sir Winston Churchill is by David McFall, the last artist to be granted life-sittings with Churchill before he died.[1]

In early 1958 McFall was commissioned by the Wanstead and Woodford Conservative Constituency Association to produce a full-length sculpture of Churchill for Woodford Green (Woodford being Churchill’s constituency) to commemorate 33 years as their MP. In late January or early February 1958 McFall travelled to Rocquebrune in the south of France for sittings with Churchill, who was staying with friends Emery (1904-1981) and Wendy Reves (1916-2007) at Villa La Pausa. Despite recently suffering a stroke, Churchill sat to McFall four times between 3rd and 6th February with any additional amendments to the clay head undertaken by McFall in his hotel room in the evenings. In an interview two months later, McFall described in greater detail the sittings he had with Churchill:

‘I know he [Churchill] does not like pompous, self-important artists, so I made myself as invisible as possible…I put him on an ordinary chair instead of a rostrum which meant I had to work on my knees. And used the minimum of equipment. By persuading him I was hardly there at all, I caught his private instead of public expression.’[2]

On 13th February the ad-vivum clay head was cast in plaster London and on 28th February the plaster head was taken to the Fiorini Foundry and two heads were cast in bronze. By late March the news of the completed ‘Rocquebrune’ head had reached the press and the Daily Herald published a photograph of the earlier head in plaster, praising McFall’s ability to capture a side of Churchill not seen before.[3] ‘Tragedy’ and ‘sorrow’ were words used to describe Churchill’s appearance, which considering his age and health was not far from the truth. Those closest to Churchill even supposedly asked McFall if he could ‘cheat a little’ though McFall refused, later reaffirming his decision: ‘This was a human document and I was not going to alter it…’[4]

Although McFall stood firm and refused to amend the ‘Rocquebrune’ head, he did agree to make a second portrait, the ‘Chartwell bust’ (life-sittings taken at Chartwell in May-June 1958) which ‘while less accurate was more flattering’.[5] McFall’s brief for this subsequent bust was to ‘portray Churchill as he was in 1944’[6] and the finished work is thus a somewhat weak depiction, lacking the immediacy and intensity of the ‘Rocquebrune’ head. Nevertheless, the ‘Chartwell bust’ pleased the committee and the head served as the basis for the head of the full-length sculpture for Woodford Green.

In the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1958, McFall exhibited one of the two bronze casts of the ‘Rocquebrune’ head. It was very well received and one critic, David Carritt, declared ‘if any exhibit in this year’s Royal Academy should be bought for the nation, surely it is David McFall’s bronze head of Winston Churchill. The President of the Royal Academy, Sir Charles Wheeler, thinks so. So does the Director of the Tate Gallery Sir John Rothenstein (…) It is sad that the Tate should be deprived of this moving portrait.’[7] The reason the Tate were unable to proceed with the acquisition was because the Chantry Bequest, which was needed to fund the purchase, only considered sculpture modelled in the UK.

The success of the exhibited head encouraged McFall to produce a further edition of 6 bronze casts which were numbered on the reverse. Casts from this edition can be found in public and private collections including at the Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The present work is believed to be an artist’s copy that was retained by McFall for his personal collection, and may be the cast produced by Fiorini Foundry on 28th February 1958 alongside the head exhibited at the Royal Academy that year.

McFall was the last artist to be granted life-sittings with the great statesman whose health deteriorated steadily thereafter. He ignored all advice to slow down and cancel public speaking engagements and on 20 April 1959 he addressed a crowded meeting of his constituents, and announced at the conclusion that he was ready to offer himself once again as their candidate in the forthcoming general election. He won a majority of 14,797 in the General Election of 8 October that year, having spent early Spring in the company of President Eisenhower (1890-1969) at the Whitehouse and attracting record crowds to an exhibition of his painting at the Royal Academy. Doctor’s orders for rest following a stroke a mere week before his election campaign at Woodford were thus healthily ignored. On 12 January 1965 Churchill suffered a stroke and he died on 27 January at 27 Hyde Park Gate.

David McFall was a highly accomplished sculptor who worked in a multiplicity of mediums. As well receiving portrait commissions from some of the most notable societies and individuals of his day, he also undertook monumental sculptures carved directly in stone. Two of his most accomplished large-scale works are the full-length sculptures of St Bride and St Paul, commissioned by St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street in 1957 and still in situ.



[1] McFall wrote to Mr Feldman from the Royal Academy of Arts on May 4th 1965; ‘I was the last artist to be granted sittings by Sir Winston. I am satisfied beyond doubt that no other painter or sculptor was allowed to work from him after the completion of my bust in 1958, other ''portraits'' done since then cannot be regarded as authentic. Lady Churchill declared to me that this was her intention at the time, and it appears that she did not change her mind.’

[2] McFall interviewed in the Daily Herald, 31 March 1958. Quoted in Black, J. (2017) Winston Churchill in British Art 1900 to the Present Day: The Titan With Many Faces, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, p.190

[3] McFall interviewed in the Daily Herald, 31 March 1958. Quoted in Black, J. (2017) Winston Churchill in British Art 1900 to the Present Day: The Titan With Many Faces, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, p.190

[4] McFall quoted in the Daily Telegraph, 16 January 1978. Quoted in Black, J. (2017) Winston Churchill in British Art 1900 to the Present Day: The Titan With Many Faces, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, p.189

[5] McFall to the Daily Telegraph, 10 January 1978. Quoted in Black, J. (2017) Winston Churchill in British Art 1900 to the Present Day: The Titan With Many Faces, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, p.190

[6] Ibid

[7] Carritt, D. (1958) ‘A petty rule has robbed the Tate of this’, 12 May. Quoted on Seddon, R. (2018), David McFall R.A. (1919 - 1988) Sculptor [Online]. Available at http://davidmcfall.co.uk/page105.html

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