This little number came up for sale yesterday at Lawrence’s of Crewkerne, and did rather well- selling way beyond its modest estimate of £100-200. It’s a walnut armchair from a dining room set, very similar to the one designed by the architect, Philip Tilden, in collaboration with Sir Ambrose Heal for Chartwell: Winston Churchill’s country house in the Kent Weald, the ‘Garden of England’. Heal & Son gave one to the V & A and you can read all about it here. Funnily enough it’s not mentioned in Olive Heal’s definitive (and brilliant) new book on Heal’s- which I would urge you to add to your reference library. I like the way the chair synthesizes 18th century ‘Chippendale’ taste with Arts & Crafts; it’s very English and very 1920’s. Would work brilliantly with a writing desk.
I must confess to being a bit of a fan of all things Churchillan, and the world seems to agree looking at the results of the recent Mary Soames auction at Sotheby’s, when Winston’s Goldfish Pool at Chartwell fetched a phenomenal- but not unsurprising- £1.8 million, against a sensible estimate of £400,000-600,000.
And here’s a close-up:
As you know, Winston was an amateur painter of charm, and his paintings are full of character. One of his many endearing traits, I think. He’s caught his beloved Golden Orfe well; the way the fish skim the surface, and the play of light on the green pond water. You will remember that famous- and beautifully written- passage in Painting as a Pastime. Churchill had been suffering from depression after the failure of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. To distract him, his sister-in-law Goonie persuades him to take up painting:
"Some experiments one Sunday in the country with the children’s paint-box led me to procure the next morning a complete outfit for painting in oils. Having bought the colours, an easel, and a canvas, the next step was to begin. But what step to take!...So very gingerly I mixed a little blue paint on the palette with a very small brush, and then with infinite precaution made a mark about as big as a bean upon the affronted snow-white shield....At that moment the loud approaching sound of a motor-car was heard in the drive. From this chariot there stepped swiftly and lightly none other than the gifted wife of Sir John Lavery. ‘Painting! But what are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush- the big one.’ Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and the white, frantic flourish on the palette- clean no longer- and then several large, fierce strokes and slashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas...The canvas grinned in helplessness before me. The spell was broken. The sickly inhibitions rolled away. I seized the largest brush and fell upon my victim with beserk fury. I have never felt in awe of a canvas since."
Another friend was Sir William Nicholson, the father of Ben, and, incidentally, one of my all-time favourite artists. In the watercolour below Winston and Clemmie sit in their stylish dining room at Chartwell with their beloved little marmalade cat, Tango. I adore this painting, and covered it a few years ago in a post on my sister blog, The Greasy Spoon. The Tilden designed chairs don’t seem to be included in the painting, although I'm pretty sure the oak table is by Heal's. I’m not sure exactly which room at Chartwell the chairs were designed for. I need to find out more.
Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949), Study for Breakfast at Chartwell II, Sir Winston Churchill and Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, Lady Churchill, in the Dining Room at Chartwell, with their cat, Tango, The National Trust.
STOP PRESS: Just had an illuminating chat with none other than Oliver Heal on the telephone. He tells me that the chair was not designed for Chartwell, and had nothing to do with Philip Tilden, being an earlier model. However, the table (as above) was. Apparently the table was initially photographed with the chair, and everbody assumes that the two are connected. They’re not. So it shows you that, sometimes, you can’t trust academic cataloguing- even if they’re written within the hallowed portals of the Victoria and Albert Museum.