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Winston Churchill Oil Painting to be Sold by Onassis Family

Winston Churchill Oil Painting
Winston Churchill, The Moat, Breccles, 1921. Credit: PHILLIPS

An oil painting created by Winston Churchill in 1921 — which was thought to have been lost to the world after the British statesman gave it to Aristotle Onassis — will soon be put up for auction.

The longtime British prime minister, who was a noted writer and historian as well as a painter in his spare time, had once gifted the painting, known as “The Moat, Breccles,” to the Greek tycoon, who hung it on the walls of his luxury yacht, the “Christina.”

The oil was one of Churchill’s early works; he even mentioned it in an essay titled “Painting as a Pastime,” which he wrote in 1921 and had published in the Strand Magazine.

Onassis’ heirs primarily consist of his granddaughter Athina, who has no children. She is the daughter of Aristotle Onassis’ only surviving child, Christina.

The painting will be auctioned off by Phillips in an event featuring modern and contemporary art on June 23 in New  York. It is expected to fetch a price between $1.5 million – $2 million.

Churchill oil painting among many that have sold in the multiple millions

The iconic British statesman and polymath had met Onassis through the Churchill’s son Randolph. They went on to spend a great deal of time together, including long voyages on Onassis’ yacht, where Churchill would regale guests with tales of his life, as he drank whiskey and smoked his ubiquitous cigars.

The Greek tycoon was one of several of Churchill friends who were the fortunate recipients of his oil paintings, which were most often landscapes and still lifes.

The British Prime Minister’s works have garnered a great deal of interest in the art market over the years, with one buyer purchasing three of his paintings for a staggering total of £11.2 million ($16 million).

Included among these oils was a painting of a North African mosque, sold by the actress Angelina Jolie, which went for three times over its estimated price, garnering a cool £8.3 million ($11.6 million), a record for Churchill paintings.

The previous record for the Prime Minister’s work had been $2.7 million, which was for a canvas called “The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell,” which he painted in 1932. That work was was sold in 2014 at Sotheby’s in London.

The Phillips auction house plans to display “The Moat, Breccles,” alongside a replica of the bar on the Christina, the yacht which saw such guests as John D. Rockefeller, Eva Peron, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe, among many others.

The work will be on display beginning on June 15 at the auction house’s new Park Avenue headquarters in New York City.

Yacht in which painting was hung has storied history of its own

Onassis had bought the Christina, later dubbed the “Christina O,” which had originally been built as a troop ship in 1943, for $34,000 in 1954. He conducted extensive and expensive renovations and hosted gala parties on it during the late 1950’s.

The wedding reception of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier in 1956 was held on the yacht.

The renowned love affair of Onassis with the opera singer Maria Callas had taken place on board in 1968, as well as Onassis’ affair with Jackie Kennedy, President Kennedy’s widow. The couple got married on the Christina O near Skorpios, Onassis’ private island.

The yacht was gifted to Onassis’ daughter Christina after his death in his will, in 1975. Christina bequeathed it to the Greek government as a Presidential yacht.

More than 20 years later, the Christina O was substantially renovated and finally restored to its former glory in 2001. The vessel is 325 feet (99 meters)long; its crew is consisted of 35 individuals and it can host 36 guests in the 18 staterooms and the Onassis Suite.

A library, sports lounge, children’s playroom, fitness center, beauty salon, massage room and Jacuzzi are included in the on-board facilities. It can now be rented out by those who want to partake of its glamorous past and enjoy its unparalleled amenities.

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