Recently, I visited Blenheim Palace at the invitation of the Duke of Marlborough, to deliver a specially made bronze bust of Sir Winston Churchill.
My bust of Churchill was unveiled at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, where we won 5 stars for our exhibition stand. The Duke of Marlborough was among the visitors who dropped by to see us. He was already familiar with my work, as last year my Andalusian Stallion, (one of the Goodman’s Fields Horses which won the PMSA Marsh Award in 2015), was displayed in the grounds of Blenheim Palace for the summer. His Grace is a staunch supporter of the Arts and the Blenheim Art Foundation has held four exhibitions of international contemporary artists, including Ai Weiwei, in the historic setting of the Palace since its inception in 2014.
The Duke liked the Churchill sculpture very much and decided to buy one for the Palace. We also had buyers from Qatar, Adelaide, and Shropshire and I like to think of it in collections all over the world. However, knowing that my bust of Churchill was going to be on display at his actual birthplace was even more exciting, and not a little humbling to boot. When the sculpture came out of the foundry, I gave it a custom patina, a more traditional bronze finish to complement the style of Blenheim Palace.
Sir Winston Churchill, arguably Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, has long been immortalised in sculpture – notably, Jacob Epstein’s 1947 Winston Churchill bust in the Oval Office of the White House, and Ivor Roberts-Jones’ 1973 Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square.
I wanted to bring something different to my study of the great man. It was a challenge I relished as I hadn’t done a portrait for twenty years. I studied hundreds of photographs of Churchill, watched footage of him speaking, and researched extensively at Blenheim Palace. One of the most inspirational images is the one that appears on the new £5 note, from a 1941 photograph by Yousuf Karsh. I just kept thinking about all the monumental decisions Churchill had made during the war and I knew I had to communicate more than just his likeness. I had to capture his instantly recognisable features and his indomitable spirit. I approached it in the same way as I approach animals subjects, trying to convey his thoughts through his expression. I sculpted Churchill in reflective mood, bearing the heavy responsibility for leading his country during difficult times, but I hope I have also revealed the kindness of the man beneath.
Bringing the bronze bust in through the front door of Blenheim Palace felt a little like bringing him home. The Duke and I arranged Churchill on a table facing the main entrance so he that greets visitors on arrival. His Grace was so pleased that he asked me to cast a scaled down edition of the Churchill bust to go into the shop at Blenheim Palace, which will be available very soon!