A still-life of roses by Sir Winston Churchill given to screen-legend Vivien Leigh, was unveiled for the first time at Sotheby’s in London yesterday (17 July 2017). The painting, which has never been showcased to public, reveals a little-known story of the deep and long-lasting friendship between the Prime Minister and the legendary star of 'Gone with the Wind'. 

Roses were picked from Churchill's beloved garden at Chartwell, his country home in Kent. The politician depicted flowers in a glass vase and gifted the artwork to Vivien in 1951 during a midnight supper hosted by Sir Winston Churchill on the birthday of Leigh’s husband, Sir Laurence Olivier. 

Churchill gifted his flower still-lifes only to those dearest to him, and Leigh treasured the present so greatly that the work hung on the wall opposite her bed. Fittingly, on Churchill’s 90th birthday she sent him a bouquet as a gift.

Left: Winston Churchill, 'Roses in a Glass Vase.' Photo provided by Sotheby’s

The painting is now set to be one of the star lots in Sotheby’s sale of Leigh’s personal collection on 26 September 2017. The still-life is estimated at £70,000-100,000 (US$ 91,500 - 130,000 at the current rate). It will be sold together with a photograph of Sir Winston Churchill in his studio at Chartwell, showing Roses in a Glass Vase hanging on the wall beside him.
Detail of Sir Winston Churchill's portrait in his studio with the Roses in a Glass Vase in the upper left corner above his shoulder. The photo is provided by Sotheby's.

The still-life was not the only gift Sir Winston Churchill presented to the Hollywood icon. A year before the Roses in a Glass Vase, the politician had gifted Vivien Leigh his book 'Painting as a Pastime'. This book will be sold along with the still-life (estimate: £ 1,500 2,000 or US$ 2,000 - 2,600). The book is a collection of essays about therapeutic effect of painting. Sir Churchill evidently inspired the actress to turn to painting and produce some artworks. The charming Vivien Leigh’s Italian landscape is expected to be one of the star lots of Sotheby’s sale of her personal collection (estimate: £ 200 - 300 or US$ 260 - 390). Admirers of the actress Vivien Leigh could also acquire her canvas artist’s bag containing a wooden box with oil paints, as well as a travelling folding easel (£800-£1,200).

“Churchill's gift of a still life of roses to Vivien speaks volumes about the respect and regard he felt for her. Theirs was not a passing acquaintance, but a friendship that endured for more than twenty years. He inspired her to begin painting and it is poignant to think that they shared a mutual solace in an activity where they found a refuge from all the trials and tribulations of daily life,”  Frances Christie, Head of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art Department told.

Read also: From Carter to Hitler. 10 Politicians Who Ventured into Arts

Vivien Leigh and Sir Winston Churchill first met in 1936 on the set of the film 'Fire Over England' by British film producer Alexander Korda. That time 23-year-old Vivien was a little-known actress at the time, and Churchill, who was 62 years old, was an established Parliamentarian. This was a start of a friendship that would last for thirty years, until Churchill’s death in 1965.
Churchill was a great fan of cinema, and of Vivien Leigh’s work in particular. On the release of 'Gone with the Wind' in London in 1940, Churchill, by then Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, stayed up until 2 a.m. watching the film. When 'Lady Hamilton' was released the following year, this became Churchill’s all-time favourite film.

Left: Augustus John, A Portrait of Vivien (1942), estimate: 5,000- 7,000 GBT or 6,500 - 9,200 USD. The photo is provided by Sotheby’s

Vivien’s friendship with Churchill ran deeper than many people knew, as attested by a letter included in the sale dated 18 July 1957 (est. £2,000-3,000 or US$ 2,600 - 3,900), in which Churchill secretly promises to donate money to St James’s Theatre, which Vivien was trying to save at the time. She had made an impulsive and staunch defence against the theatre's demolition in the House of Lords and was promptly escorted out, an event which garnered front page headlines. Unfortunately, all the efforts were in vain.  

The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell currently is the most expensive piece of art by Sir Winston Churchill. It was sold for £1.8million ($ 2.8 million) at Sotheby's in 2014 – a record price for a work of art by the former Prime Minister. The estimate was £ 400 - 600 or $ 630 - 940 only.

Left: Winston Churchill, Goldfish Pool at Chartwell (1932). Oil on canvas, 63,5 х 76,5 сm. Private collection.

Roses in a Glass Vase still life will be showcased in Sotheby’s Café in London till 11 August, 2017.

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According to Sotheby's and artdaily.com