TOWER OF THE KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE BY SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, JANUARY 1943. SIGNED WITH INITIALS ‘W.S.C.’ ON LOWER RIGHT
The actress and philanthropist is selling the prized landscape at Christie’s next month. Its impressive provenance dates back to 1943 when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gifted it to American President FDR after their trip to the Anglo-American Casablanca Conference
Amidst her ongoing divorce from actor Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie is selling the Moroccan landscape he surprised her with in 2011 — Sir Winston Churchill’s only wartime painting before VE Day. The historic work will lead the ‘Modern British Evening Sale’ at Christie’s London on 1 March and is expected to fetch between £1.5-2.5 million.
‘Christie’s is delighted to offer such a historically significant painting as the leading highlight of the Modern British Art Evening Sale,’ notes Nick Orchard, Head of Christie’s Modern British Art Department. ‘The work is expected to realise one of the top prices for Sir Winston Churchill’s paintings at auction.’
Coveted for its immense political consequence on both sides of the Atlantic, Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque presents collectors and museums the acquisition opportunity of a lifetime. Created by Churchill against the historical backdrop of the pivotal Casablanca Conference — where the Allies agreed to demand an unconditional surrender from Nazi Germany — it’s nigh impossible to overstate the rarity of such a piece.
After the successful summit in Casablanca, Churchill famously said to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), ‘You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakech… let us spend two days there. I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.’ Persuaded by his friend to indulge after ten days of strategic military negotiations, FDR obliged.
According to Churchill historian Andrew Roberts, the two statesmen drove to the ancient imperial city of Marrakech together, where they stayed at the palatial villa of the American Vice-Consul Moses Taylor. That same evening, on Churchill’s insistence, two of his staff respectfully carried the wheelchair-bound FDR up the winding stairs to the villa’s rooftop terrace.
As the muezzin sounded the evening call to prayer and dusk bathed the city in golden light, the US President was met with a breathtaking view of the Koutoubia Mosque set against the rising peaks of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the distance. This was the phenomenal scene Churchill had coaxed him 150 miles to behold.
The Travels of Winston Churchill, written by Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys, recounts the magical moment where FDR — who was at that point laying on a divan enjoying the panorama — joked to the British Bulldog: ‘I feel like a sultan. You may kiss my hand, my dear.’ A tender moment between political titans.
Revitalised, FDR departed the next morning, while Churchill elected to stay on one more day to paint the vista from the rooftop. He would later refer to the finished painting as ‘a cut above anything I have ever done so far.’ In light of their shared experience, Churchill gifted the painting to the US President as ‘a memento of this short interlude in the crash of war.’
‘Roosevelt was blown away by [the work] and thought it was incredible,’ shares Orchard. ‘Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque is arguably the best painting by Winston Churchill due to the significance of the subject matter to him, and the fact that it highlights the importance of the friendship between the two leaders.’
To read the full catalogue entry on this exquisite painting and peruse the other notable works in the forthcoming Modern British Evening Sale at Christie’s London, please click here.