Hollywood’s Angelina Jolie and iconic former British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, a keen artist who took inspiration from the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, combined at Christie’s auction house in London on Monday.
The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque, an oil painting Churchill produced during a World War II visit, sold for ￡7 million (US$9.75 million), smashing expectations it would fetch between ￡1.5 million and ￡2.5 million.
Put up for auction by Angelina Jolie, it was vaunted in Christie’s catalogue as “Churchill’s most important work. Aside from its distinguished provenance, it is the only landscape he made” during the war.
A career army officer before entering politics, Churchill started to paint relatively late, at the age of 40.
His passion for the translucent light of Marrakesh, far from the political storms and drab skies of London, dates back to the 1930s, when most of Morocco was a French protectorate, and he went on to make six visits to the North African country over the course of 23 years.
“Here in these spacious palm groves rising from the desert the traveller can be sure of perennial sunshine ... and can contemplate with ceaseless satisfaction the stately and snow-clad panorama of the Atlas Mountains,” he wrote in 1936 in the Daily Mail newspaper.
He would set up his easel on the balconies of the grandiose La Mamounia hotel or the city’s Villa Taylor, beloved by the European jet set of the 1970s.
It was from the villa, after a historic January 1943 conference in Casablanca with then-US president Franklin Roosevelt and former French president Charles de Gaulle, that he painted what came to be regarded as his finest work.
“You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakesh,” he is reputed to have told Roosevelt. “I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.”
After the US delegation had left, Churchill stayed on an extra day and painted the view of the Koutoubia Mosque framed by the mountains.
He sent it to Roosevelt for his birthday.
Sold by the Roosevelt family in the 1950s, it changed hands several times before passing on to Hollywood couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in 2011, well before their separation.
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