Sir Winston Churchill | The Freedom Portrait
The Freedom Portrait by Frank Owen Salisbury
A Highlight of the Exhibition:
Wartime London: Art of the Blitz
Currently on view at The Churchill War Rooms, London
23 February 2022 - 24 April 2022
This emotive likeness of Sir Winston Churchill is the only painted portrait for which he is recorded to have formally sat during the Second World War. Until recently, the portrait was thought to have been painted from pencil studies and photographs, however, a previously overlooked entry in Churchill's wartime diary has confirmed that it was in fact painted from life at the artist's studio in Hampstead on 24th November 1944.
'The Freedom Portrait' by Frank Owen Salisbury
The portrait was kept by Salisbury who later signed and inscribed the work with the incorrect date 'Oct 24 1944' in the lower right corner. Churchill was abroad in October 1944, which led past scholars to overlook its significance as an authentic image painted from life and to assume it was based on secondary source material. The overlooked diary entry is corroborated by Salisbury's memoirs which describe the excitement of Churchill's visit to the studio:
'…At six o'clock I received a telephone message from 10 Downing Street to say that the Prime Minister's car was at the door, a few minutes to seven o'clock a further message that the Prime Minister was about to enter his car. One and a half hours later he arrived, saying that now he could only give me ten minutes! I could not help a laugh, asking if he thought it possible that I could paint a portrait in so short a time. He, however, gave me half an hour. When he took the pose, he set his mouth and I thought of Mrs Churchill. Smilingly, I requested him not to look so stern, as if I painted him like that everybody would be frightened'.
Salisbury had requested a formal sitting with Churchill in 1943 for a large-scale multi-figure work titled The Presentation of the Freedom of the City to Winston Churchill in the Guildhall, London, 30 June 1943 which was commissioned by Sir Samuel Joseph to commemorate the historic event. However, due to Churchill's wartime commitments the sitting was not granted, and the artist instead had to copy his likeness from photographs and previous portraits. After several further requests, Salisbury was finally granted a sitting and proudly showcased his swift abilities with a brush. The result was the present work which captures Churchill's characteristic strength and determination during this turbulent moment in world history. Salisbury was exceedingly proud of the portrait and sent Churchill a photograph of it to which he responded: "Thank you very much for sending me the photograph of your picture. I think it is a remarkable likeness considering that I was able to give you only one short sitting."
Philip Mould & Company are delighted to have helped facilitate the loan of this portrait between a private collection and the Imperial War Museum. It is currently on view at the Churchill War Rooms until 24th April 2022. Philip Mould recently spoke with Al Murray and James Holland about this portrait you can listen to the full podcast here.
 Salisbury, F.O. (1953) Sarum Chase. London: John Murray, p. 204.