A recent visit to Winston Churchill’s studio in the grounds of Chartwell, his home in Kent, inspired the Archives Assistants to explore artistic treasures in the Archives Centre’s own collections.

While it is no secret that Churchill himself discovered the pleasures of painting in his forties and went on to produce over five hundred pictures, the artistic talents of the other twentieth-century politicians, diplomats, military figures, intellectuals, and scientists whose papers we hold are perhaps less well known. A new display in the Archives Centre reading rooms, ‘Art in the Archives: Creativity in the Churchill Era’, presents a selection of documents illustrating the rich and varied expressions of creativity found amongst our records.

Along with Churchill’s paintings and childhood drawings, highlights of the exhibition include a watercolour found in the midshipman’s log book belonging to the fifteen year-old John de Robeck, later Admiral of the Fleet; a poignant wartime drawing by the artist, soldier, and Bright Young Thing, Rex Whistler; leaves from the sketchbook of poet, novelist, and ceramic sculptor Sasha Moorsom Young; and a set of enchanting intimate sketches by Hedi Born, wife of the pioneering German physicist and mathematician Max Born.

The display also traces art through the written records in the collection — a whimsical note from the painter Philip Burne-Jones to Lady Randolph Churchill provides a window onto aristocratic society in Edwardian London, while a series of letters from Aesthetic movement artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George Frederic Watts to the collector Mrs Eustace Smith sheds new light on an infamous divorce scandal in late Victorian Britain.

Letter from Hedi Born to her husband Max, 1914


A letter from Hedi Born to her husband Max, 1914, in which she uses a mixture of English and German to create an ironic poem about their relationship. She signs the letter with a drawing of a rabbit, referring to it as a ‘Versuchskaninchen’ (the German equivalent to a guinea pig). Born Papers, BORN 1/2/1/28.


Drawing of Max Born at the piano, 1917


Drawing of Max Born at the piano, 1917. Hedi Born used the back of her husband’s notes for her drawing. Born Papers, BORN 2/1/1/2.


Illustrated letter from Sarah Churchill, c 1947


Illustrated letter from Sarah Churchill to her mother Clementine, c 1947, describing an evening with her Italian friends and father Winston at Chartwell. Odette Pol Roger is pictured, dressed in Schiaparelli and holding a bottle of her family’s famous champagne. Sarah Churchill Papers, SCHL 1/1/11.


Extract from Sir Alexander Cadogan's diary


After retiring from diplomatic life and his post as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC, Sir Alexander Cadogan was able to indulge his hobby, still life painting. In this diary entry, June 1958, he records a bewildering encounter with fellow artists at The Slade. Sir Alexander Cadogan Papers, ACAD 1/29.


Rex Whistler drawing


Drawing of Roman soldiers obeying orders from their ‘Roman Serjeant-Major’, by the painter Rex Whistler, June 1941. The picture was enclosed in a letter written by Duff Cooper, Conservative Minister of Information, to his eleven year-old son John Julius. During the War Rex Whistler served as a Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards and was killed in Normandy in July 1944, shortly after the D-Day landings. Duff Cooper (1st Viscount Norwich) Papers, DUFC 14/35.


Oscar Nemon


Oscar Nemon, with his bust of Sir Winston Churchill, and Churchill’s bust of him, both sculpted during sittings at Chartwell. Photo taken by Falcon Stuart the sculptor’s son and used by permission of the Nemon Estate. Nemon Papers, 4/3.

This temporary exhibition is on display in the Archives Centre’s reading rooms, which are free to use and open to registered researchers Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm.

— Heidi Egginton and Julia Schmidt, Archives Assistants

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