Offered with a £150,000-250,000 estimate at the firm’s latest Modern and Post-War British art sale, a timed-online auction that closed on November 17, Jug with Bottles set the fourth highest price at auction for the war-time Prime Minister and amateur artist.
A total of 29 bids were placed on the work and it finally sold to a US private collector.
It was painted at Chartwell in 1930 and given to the American railway heir Averell Harriman who later served as a special envoy to Europe in the 1940s. One of the richest men in the United States, Harriman had an affair with Churchill’s daughter-in-law Pamela (the wife of his only son Randolph) in 1941 and then married her in 1971.
The painting remained in her collection until it was sold at an auction of works from her estate held at Sotheby’s New York following her death in 1997. Back then, it made $165,000 (£100,815) – the almost eight-fold increase in price at the current sale demonstrated why investors have been keen on Churchill pictures for some time now.
The 20 x 14in (51 x 35.5cm) oil on canvas board was signed with the Churchill’s initials. It depicted a jug, two glasses, a bottle of brandy and another bottle with the distinctive black and gold diagonal label of Johnnie Walker Black Label, Churchill’s favourite scotch.
Churchill is said to have begun and ended the day with a whisky – his hand-written breakfast menu from 1954 includes a whisky soda – however he apparently preferred to have champagne with lunch.
Sotheby’s said that the “play of light and juxtaposition of objects clearly shows the influence of famous still life painter, and friend of the family, Sir William Nicholson”.
The highest price at auction for a painting by Churchill remains the £1.5m bid for The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell from 1932 that sold at Sotheby’s in December 2014, a work offered from the estate of his youngest child, the late Mary Soames.
The Sotheby’s sale raised a total of £5.65m including fees with 110 of the 145 lots (76%) sold. The Churchill picture was the top lot.
The buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s is 25/20/13.9% plus 1% overhead premium.