Winston Churchill, Plein Air Painting, Dead Rats and Towed Cars

April 23rd, 2011

Winston Churchill painting

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure
without losing your enthusiasm.
-Winston Churchill

Did you know that Winston Churchill was quite the painter?

He was a late starter- He didn’t begin painting until he was 40- but over the next 48 years he painted more than 500 paintings. One of his works recently sold at Sotheby’s for a cool million pounds. Not bad at all for an amateur!

Chartwell with Sheep by Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill often painted plein air- in the open air- a technique of painting made famous by the French Impressionist movement. Plein air paintings are usually quick, capturing the essence of light and shadow without a lot of detail. It is a particularly challenging technique because the light changes so quickly.

I enjoy plein air painting  but don’t often indulge myself. I’m more of a studio painter, using photos for reference, as well as working from observation with controlled constant lighting.

Last weekend however, I drove to Boston to participate in Co/So’s Fresh Paint project. This is  an annual event where Copley Society (Co/So) artists create a “plein air” painting to donate to an auction which supports the gallery. According to the website: “The event brings in funds to support innovative exhibitions of emerging and established artists, lectures, scholarships, residencies, and outreach programs.” I decided to participate, thinking that it would be fun to paint in the park, and that it would be a good way to get to know some other members of Co/So.

My choice of location was in Boston's Backbay Fens, looking across the water at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The weekend turned out to be quite of a comedy of errors for me where one thing seemed to go wrong after another.

1) The thwarted visit: I was planning to visit a very dear friend  in the evening. About 1/2 way to Boston I received a phone call that he had been taken to the hospital. Happily, he is fine, but it was a disappointment not to be able to see him. One of the reasons that I had decided to participate in Fresh Paint was that it would give me an opportunity to spend time with him after a day of painting. Soon!

2) The WEATHER was miserable- well, just shy of miserable. As long as I stood in the lee of the tree, out of the wind, it was just tolerable. But the light wasn’t exciting… I prefer the drama of bright light with strong contrast.  Everything was muted and softened.

3) THE DEAD RAT After choosing a spot, setting up my pochade (which is a nifty, folding traveling easel case) and squeezing out the paints, I discovered a sad, soggy drowned rat on the other side of the tree. I persevered though, at that point there wasn’t time to move.

Setting up to paint in the Boston Fens

At that point I settled into the painting process. It  felt like coming home to be focusing on composition, the lovely details of gnarly roots reflected in water; elegant columns on the Museum’s front facade; Canada geese floating serenely in the water.
4) The towed car: And then, out of the corner of my eye I saw the nose of  Georgia, my Honda Element, lifting into the air as she was towed away. Clearly I had misread the parking designation signs. At that point I decided that wherever Georgia was, she was safe.  I tried to keep painting, but my concentration was shattered. Suffice it to say, after twelve phone calls trying to find out where she was, and a subway ride to Jamaica Plain I retrieved her and  decided that it was time for this country bumpkin painter to head back to Vermont.

The finished painting

The next day I finished the painting. Those of you who know my work will see that it’s COMPLETELY different from my usual painting. I decided to ‘spring’ it up a bit- adding some more lively color and lighting direction.  It was difficult to re-enter the freshness of a plein air experience in the studio,  but I had promised myself I would get it done and mailed to Co/So, where it is now.

The Fresh Paint Gala Auction takes place on May 7

It should be a fun event.

I hope to see you  there, especially if I can teleport!
I’ll give Winston the last word:

We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint box.
And, for this, Audacity is the only ticket.

-Winston Churchill

2 Responses to “Winston Churchill, Plein Air Painting, Dead Rats and Towed Cars”

  1. Robin Kent says:

    Yes different but still YOU. Traveling to JP to fetch car shows what a Pioneer artist you are.

Leave a Reply