LONDON (AP) — Sotheby’s auction house is selling art, books, furniture and a humidor owned by a well-known Briton who traveled the world on high-level diplomatic missions during World War II, met Roosevelt and Stalin and loved a good cigar.
No, it’s not wartime leader Winston Churchill but his daughter, Mary Soames.
The auction of her artworks and artifacts on Wednesday offers an unusually personal look at her father and a pivotal moment in history.
“They are little slices of history,” said Frances Christie, head of modern and postwar British art at Sotheby’s, holding a silver coffee pot given to Churchill as a birthday present from his War Cabinet colleagues in 1942 to commemorate the crucial British victory at El Alamein.
Mary, who died in May aged 91, kept the coffee pot in her London home, along with other mementoes, after her father’s death in 1965.
The 280 items on sale reflect both Churchill the statesman — there’s a battered red ministerial briefcase from his time as secretary of state for the colonies — but also Churchill the artist and animal-loving family man. They humanize a politician whose firm leadership and never-say-die speeches rallied Britain to defeat Nazi Germany.
The star lot, valued at 400,000 pounds to 600,000 pounds ($627,000 to $940,000), is an Impressionist-style oil painting by Churchill of the goldfish pond at Chartwell, the family home in southern England.
Another painting, “The Weald of Kent Under Snow,” depicts the view from the house, a vista that Churchill adored.
The items also include sketches of the household’s marmalade cat, and the salt bowl on which Toby, the family parakeet, used to balance during Sunday lunches at Chartwell.
The sale is also a reminder that Soames was a formidable figure in her own right. She served as an anti-aircraft gunner during the war and accompanied her father on diplomatic missions to Washington and elsewhere. The sale includes a photo of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed “To Mary Churchill from her friend, the other naval person” — a reference to Winston Churchill’s former role as First Lord of the Admiralty.
The humidor is a reminder that Mary shared her father’s love of cigars.
“They used to have competitions to see who could maintain the longest chain of ash,” Christie said.
The auction record for a Churchill painting is 1 million pounds ($2 million in 2007). Christie said the high price tags — unusual for an amateur artist — were not just because of his name.
“How do you define amateur artist?” she said. “He’s just an artist. Obviously he had a very busy day job.”
Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless