Churchill painting from Onassis superyacht sells for USD1.85M

NEW YORK (AFP) – A painting by wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that was gifted to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis sold for USD1.85 million at a Phillips auction in New York on Wednesday.

The Moat, Breccles, a signed 1921 oil landscape, went for within its pre-sale estimate price of between USD1.5 million and USD2 million.

The sale was far less than the USD11.6 million netted by another Churchill painting sold by Angelina Jolie at Christie’s last March.

Despite failing to shatter records, the landscape which Churchill mentioned in a December 1921 essay titled Painting as a Pastime – appealed to both history and celebrity buffs.

Churchill kept the painting for 40 years before offering it in 1961, four years before his death, to his friend Onassis.

Deputy Chairman Jean-Paul Engelen of Phillips auction house speaks next to ‘The Moat, Breccles’ painting by Winston Churchill and owned by the Onassis family. PHOTO: AFP

The tycoon was so proud of his gift that he hung it in a place of honour in his yacht – alongside works by Vermeer, Gauguin, El Greco and Pissarro.

This super yacht, named ‘Christina’ after Onassis’s daughter, was a former Canadian Navy frigate, nearly 100 metres long. It had been a part of the Normandy landings before Onassis bought the ship post-war for USD34,000.

Onassis had it lavishly renovated to the tune of USD4 million, making it “one of the most incredible structures that floated”, Phillips Deputy Chairman Jean-Paul Engelen told AFP.

It was a favoured gathering spot for the rich and famous, including Elizabeth Taylor, John F and Jackie Kennedy, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, J Paul Getty, Eva Peron and others.

When Onassis died in 1975, seven years after his marriage to Jackie Kennedy, the yacht was sold and everything on board placed in storage, until his heirs recently decided to part with the painting.

To spur interest in the canvas, Phillips has recreated the bar on the ‘Christina’ – known as Ari’s Bar – in its New York showroom, including facsimiles of its famous whale teeth.