On a cold winter morning in March, I accompanied an item held at the Churchill Archives Centre on an unusual day away from its sheltered surroundings. Safely secured in a courier case and in the comfort of a chauffeured car, the document reached its destination, Chartwell. It was here, at Winston Churchill’s former family home, where the BBC was filming an episode of Fake or Fortune. As the title implies, the episode in question aimed to reveal whether a painting could be attributed to William Nicholson (1872–1949), painter of still-lives, landscapes and portraits.

The document, travelling all the way from Cambridge to Kent, was a key item in the analysis of the painting’s authenticity. It was a catalogue of oil paints from the 1930s, which Nicholson sent to Winston Churchill, who, as a keen painter himself, regularly received advice from the professional artist. In this case, Nicholson had marked the colours that he used in the catalogue – a clue as to whether the paint used in the artwork discussed in Fake or Fortune could be attributed to him.

The answer to the question as to whether Nicholson can be credited with being the creator of the painting should be left to the experts, whose judgement is revealed on the programme, which was first broadcast last Sunday. For the document, and for myself, the time at Chartwell was certainly an adventure. Armed with a set of gloves, a purpose-made bookrest and some archive weights, I spent half a day in Churchill’s former garden studio, during which I would not let the document out of sight and, when finally handing it over to the presenter, instructed him on the safe handling of the catalogue.

An archivist wearing nitrile gloves is closing a courier case. On the table nearby are a cushioned book rest, archive weights, and a  buff cardboard folder.

Packing Nicholson’s catalogue before taking it down to Chartwell.

After an unusual day away from the Archives Centre, my final task was to safely reunite the document with the rest of the Churchill Papers. It was fascinating to witness how the item formed part of the ‘detective’ investigation of Fake or Fortune, one of many examples for the diverse use of the material held at the Churchill Archives Centre.

— Julia Schmidt, Archives Assistant

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