The Sutherland Portrait A present for Churchill's 80th birthday

At the birthday celebrations at Westminster Hall in November 1954, Churchill was presented with a portrait by Graham Sutherland, commissioned by past and present members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It was Sutherland’s practice to prepare detailed sketches, almost completely finished works, often close-ups of the heads of his sitters.

Apparently, Churchill had asked Sutherland at the outset, ‘How are you going to paint me? As a cherub, or the Bulldog?’ Sutherland is said to have replied: ‘It depends on what you show me, sir.’ He later told Beaverbrook that ‘Consistently … he showed me the Bull Dog’.

Churchill loathed the finished portrait (he later said it was ‘malignant’), perhaps because it conveyed all too accurately the frailties of old age, although when presented with it on his birthday, he carefully described it as ‘a remarkable example of modern art’. It was later, controversially, destroyed on the orders of Clementine.

Churchill made his last major speech in the House of Commons on 1 March 1955 – a carefully prepared, and passionate, speech, in which he suggested that the power of nuclear weapons might lead to peace through deterrence. For a full transcript of his final speech, ‘Never Despair’, click.

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