Churchill paintings accepted for the nation

Looking south-east from the balcony at Chartwell towards the painting studio, with the Kentish Weald beyond, a view Churchill loved. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Looking south-east from the balcony at Chartwell towards the painting studio, with the Kentish Weald beyond, a view Churchill loved. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

It has just been announced that the Government has accepted a major collection of paintings by Sir Winston Churchill in lieu of inheritance tax. Most of the paintings have been allocated to the National Trust and will remain at Chartwell, where they had been on long-term loan.

The south front of Chartwell. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

The south front of Chartwell. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

The paintings were part of the estate of Lady Soames, Churchill’s last surviving child, who died last year. The inheritance tax liability was less than the tax settlement value of the paintings, but the executors of Lady Soames’s estate generously agreed to forgo the difference. In addition one further painting by Churchill was donated directly to the National Trust by the executors.

The garden front of Chartwell seen from the Marlborough Pavilion. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

The garden front of Chartwell seen from the Marlborough Pavilion. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Apart from being a soldier, writer and politician, Churchill was also a talented amateur artist. As Lady Soames herself wrote of her father: ‘… in his 41st year [1915] painting literally “grabbed” him, thereafter playing an increasing and abiding role in his life, renewing the source of his great inner strength and enabling him to face storms, ride out depressions and rise above the tough passages in his political life.’

Churchill's study at Chartwell. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Churchill’s study at Chartwell. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

This allocation is yet another example of the hugely important role of the Acceptance in Lieu scheme in safeguarding important works of art and heritage objects for the benefit of the public. Over the last five years the scheme has brought items to the value of £150 million into public collections in the United Kingdom.

10 Responses to “Churchill paintings accepted for the nation”

  1. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    You noted that apart from being a soldier, writer and politician, Churchill was also a talented amateur artist. So here is the question: were his works great enough to be accepted in their own artistic right? Or were they accepted because he was an important politician? And does it matter?

  2. Andrew Says:

    Well, to be accepted, objects are required to be “pre-eminent”, but that includes national, scientific, historic or artistic interest, or association with certain sorts of “significant building”. The gift must also be in the public or national interest. I think it would be fair to say that Churchill is a competent but not “pre-eminent” artist; nonetheless, the criteria are clearly sataisfied here, probably most easily by the association of the paintings with Chartwell.

    See the guidance here – http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/doc/CGSguidance27january2015.docx

  3. Andrew Says:

    Oh, perhaps that was the wrong guidance, but it is consistent with this too – http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/doc/ail_guidance_notes_short_ACE_170714.doc

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helen, I haven’t yet seen the exact criteria for pre-eminence which applied in this case – those are usually listed in the Acceptance in Lieu annual report, which will come out later this year.

    But Andrew you have helpfully provided a link to the guidance notes on that. One of the criteria in this case may have been the historic significance of the paintings, in view of the importance of the practice of painting to Churchill, as described by Lady Soames above.

    Another factor may have been the association of the paintings with Chartwell, which he had rebuilt and where he lived for decades and where he had a painting studio.

  5. Andrew Says:

    As you say, Emile, we should find out the rationale in due course. I suppose you could make an argument on artistic or historical grounds, but are the paintings really “pre-eminent” under either head?

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    The exact criteria are as follows:

    1. Does the object have an especially close association with our history and national life?
    2. Is the object of especial artistic or art-historical interest?
    3. Is the object of especial importance for the study of some particular form of art, learning or history?
    4. Does the object have an especially close association with a particular historic setting?

    My guess would be that the first and fourth criteria apply here – because of Churchill’s historical importance and because of the association with Chartwell – but we will have to see what the report says.

  7. Andrew Says:

    I am afraid you are glossing the words of s.230(4) of the Inheritance Act 1984, which simply refers to an object being “pre-eminent for its national, scientific, historic or artistic interest” without a definition.

    Sorry, I’m not convinced that the paintings are of “pre-eminent” historical or artistic interest – it is not as if they are Magna Carta, or the Fighting Temeraire!

    To be frank, it would be easier to rely on s.230(3) and show the desirablity of continuing the association of the paintings with a specified place owned by a body listed in Schedule 3, which includes the NT.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    As I said I am just guessing which criteria were deemed to be applicable here. We will have to await the full report.

  9. trewinb Says:

    I was horrified to read about a potential change of policy in the National Trust regarding the display of paintings in NT properties. For more please read,What’s Wrong with the National Trust’ in AHN http://www.arthistorynews.com/ March 24, 2015.

    Please reassure me that this dumbing down attitude is not going to be implemented.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Trewinb, these are Bendor Grosvenor’s comments on a piece in the Daily Telegraph about something our Director General has said. I think the signal has become a bit distorted in the process.

    Although these particular comments from Bendor are rather intemperate and partly inaccurate, they are related to the perennial debate about what the National Trust is for. That debate has moved in various directions ever since the National Trust was founded in 1895.

    The Trust was founded by a band of Victorian nature conservationists and social reformers. Then in the 1930s it embraced the cause of the country house. Then in the 1960s the coastline became a priority, and in the 70s and 80s ‘downstairs’ came to the fore. Recently there has been more emphasis on the outdoors and nature as well as on the urban environment. I would argue that it is that very debate and process of change that has kept the Trust relevant to society at large.

    At the same time the National Trust has always had to keep some kind of balance between all of the above issues and priorities and between the needs, interests and expectations of different groups of people, including the young and the old, art lovers and nature lovers, focused singletons and multi-generational families.

    In fact there has recently been more, rather than less, investment in the collections side of the National Trust. We now have an online collections database which is continuously being updated and improved, we have a programme of publishing substantial books about aspects of our collections (the beautifully illustrated and deeply researched tome on the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead being a good recent example), we publish a Historic Houses Annual with specialist art-historical articles, we lend works of art to major international exhibitions at an ever-increasing rate and some of our properties (such as Upton and Petworth) now have their own serious exhibition programmes.

    Bendor is clearly passionate about the Trust, to the extent that he tried to get nominated for election to our governing council. So I hope he will keep talking to us.

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