Signed Portrait Photograph of Sir Winston Churchill, 1941
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Image: 14.5cm (5.75in) x 10.5cm (4.25in)
Original gelatin silver print of the half-length portrait of the wartime Prime Minister seated at the Cabinet table by Walter Stoneman (1876-1958), taken during the photographic session at 10 Downing Street in the early afternoon of 19 April 1941. Signed in the mount to the lower right in ink in Churchill’s own hand ‘WS Churchill’. Famed and glazed. Overall size: 38cm (15in) x 32cm (12.5in)
Stoneman’s photographic session of April 1941 produced not only this image, which was given in a reduced size to selected members of the wartime prime minister’s staff, but also the portrait that was reputedly kept on Stalin's desk in the Kremlin following Hitler’s betrayal of the Soviet-Nazi Pact just two months later in June 1941. During Stoneman’s visit to Downing Street, Churchill was awaiting word of Germany’s invasion of Yugoslavia. Decrypted German Enigma messages had not only enabled him to predict Germany’s Balkan plans, they had revealed to him Germany’s ‘magnitude of design,’ as he termed it, against its ally, Russia. As a result, Churchill made the dangerous decision to send a personal message of warning to Joseph Stalin. It was a message that Stalin chose to ignore. The seated portrait remained one of Churchill’s favourite images (see National Portrait Gallery NPG x6138).
Walter Stoneman, M.B.E., (1876-1958) began his career as a junior photographer with the well established firm of J. Russell of Baker Street, London. In 1897 he was the only one of Russell’s photographers that managed to obtain images of Queen Victoria in the state landau during the Diamond Jubilee. By 1913 he had risen to the position of Managing Director. In 1917 he approached the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, James Milner, with an ambitious idea for a National Photographic Record. The Record was set up to photograph every eminent British person, with a photograph of each to be kept as a permanent record in the Gallery's reference collection. Stoneman photographed some 7,000 sitters on the Gallery's behalf; he worked on the Record for forty-one years, adding a hundred portraits each year.