LONDON — A painting first owned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and now being sold by actress Angelina Jolie, elevated the art of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a new price league at auction at Christie’s on Monday.
The work, “Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” (1943), sold for 8.3 million pounds, or about $11.5 million, with fees — a record for an artwork by Churchill, who was a keen amateur painter.
Churchill gave his Impressionist-style painting of a sunlit Marrakech with the Atlas Mountains in the background to Roosevelt in 1943, as a birthday gift, after a pivotal World War II meeting in Casablanca to discuss long-term strategy. Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to stay on an extra day in North Africa. Marrakech was a much-loved subject for paintings by Churchill.
“You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakech,” Churchill told the president, according to the Christie’s catalog. “I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.” Believed to be Churchill’s only landscape painted during the war years, the work records the view the two statesmen enjoyed at the Villa Taylor, on the outskirts of the city.
More recently, in 2011, the painting had been bought by Brad Pitt for $2.95 million from New Orleans antiques dealer M.S. Rau, and gifted to Jolie. The celebrity couple married in 2014, but began divorce proceedings in 2016. Christie’s catalog listed the work as “property of the Jolie Family Collection.”
The work proved to be the star lot of Christie’s evening auction of Modern British Art in London. Estimated to sell for about $2.09 million to $3.49 million, it was acquired by an undisclosed telephone buyer. The same telephone buyer bought two other Churchill paintings in the sale, including the landscape “Scene at Marrakech,” dating from about 1935, for $2.6 million.
The previous auction high for a painting by Churchill had been $2.75 million in 2014, for “The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell,” dating from 1932, showing the garden of the politician’s country home in Kent.
“Academics have always looked on him as a Sunday painter, but there’s always been a following for him, especially in America,” said Alan Hobart, director of the London-based Pyms Gallery, who mentioned an exhibition devoted to Churchill’s paintings held at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1958. “But this was Roosevelt, Hollywood and Churchill. It had everything going for it.”
Articles by Churchill on “Painting as a Pastime” appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1921 and 1922. According to the International Churchill Society, this journalism netted the politician the “handsome” sum of 1,000 pounds, or about $66,700 in today’s money, “considerably more than his paintings would earn him in his lifetime.”