Monday, 1 February 2016

Charles, Churchill and Hitler: Three Painters

According to numerous syndicated news reports in recent times, the current best-selling painter in the United Kingdom is none other than His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales. The Prince is an enthusiastic and prolific amateur watercolorist, and lithograph reproductions of his paintings have been on sale for some time. They sell well. He donates the money made from the sales to charity. It is estimated that every year he sells something in the order of two million pounds worth of paintings. 

Their popularity, however, is not matched by critical acclaim. Critics have been almost uniformly unkind in their appraisal of his work, with one noted critic describing them as “laughable”. Others are less savage and merely denounce them as “torpor-inducingly conventional.” The London gallery which displays his work is more positive; the curator describes his paintings as “charming works in the British watercolor tradition”. Below are several of the paintings in question:

Much as the present writer is an unabashed apologist for the Prince in nearly all the fields to which His Royal Highness devotes himself – from his advocacy for organic gardening to his contempt for modernist eyesores in urban architecture – he is, all the same, not so keen for the Prince’s artwork and for once feels compelled to side with the critics. 

Many posts ago on this blog he gave a somewhat positive response to the paintings of another unlikely amateur painter, George W. Bush, (see here). As it happens, he has no love of the man as a public figure, but he does admit some charm to his paintings. In the case of Prince Charles, it is the other way around; he has much love for the man but does not find many redeeming qualities in the paintings. They are, perhaps, “charming” additions to the “British watercolor tradition” but they are also, as the critics rightly say, dull in their conventionality and lacking in insight, imagination and flair. There is nothing quirky in them to make them interesting. At best, they are competent and skilled, but the selection of subject matter and viewpoint is conventional in the worst sense. Here below are several more to demonstrate:

Alas, His Royal Highness is not a great painter. 

His paintings deserve comparison with those of other British artists in the same tradition, and the artist that springs most to mind is Winston Churchill. Mr. Churchill took up painting as a relaxing pastime during World War II, and continued painting for the rest of his life. His work is certainly much better than that of the Prince of Wales. In fact, he might really have become a painter of note had he found the time to devote all his energies to it. Unlike those of the Prince of Wales, there is nothing pedestrian or deadly dull about Churchill’s works. They often fail for being too conventional as well, but others are refreshing and vibrant and manage to surprise. He is a better observer, as well as more skilful with color and brush. Below are some of Mr. Churchill's better works:

As readers can see, Churchill was a considerable talent. His paintings of scenes in Morocco, Egypt and other orientalist subjects are particular favorites of this present writer:

These paintings, it must be said, have everything that is lacking in those of the Prince of Wales. There is depth, engagement, intimacy, imagination and a distinct viewpoint matched by keen observation. Churchill makes a genuine personal contribution to British painting. Those of the Prince, regardless of how well they sell, are flaccid, dull, mere imitations of much better works in that same tradition, postcard reproductions. They are not, for all of that, bad. They are probably much better than many people might have expected. But they are ordinary and undistinguished, whereas the paintings of Mr. Churchill – the better ones at least – manage to rise above those categories and become artworks of real interest and character. 

The paintings of Mr. Churchill, in turn, invite comparison with those of yet another famous amateur, the German Chancellor, Herr Adolf Hitler. Hitler had pretensions to become a professional artist early in his life and was passionate about both painting and architecture. It is even reported that as late as 1939 he remarked, "I'm am artist, not a politician. As soon as this matter of Poland is settled I'm going back to art." Those of his paintings which survived the War now fetch very high prices among a certain circle of conoscenti. He was, in fact, a more technically sound painter than either Charles or Churchill, as the following examples illustrate:

There is no gainsaying the fact that he was quite a good painter (a much better painter than a military strategist!) He shows the sensibility of an architect, whereas Prince Charles - for all his love of traditional architecture and his well-known horror of modernist buildings - shows no such sensitivity in his paintings. Churchill's paintings show a more intimate sensibility, most evident in his interiors. Herr Hitler is primarily interested in buildings. Accordingly - as we well know - he was a man of large projects. He shows a sensitivity to things solid and concrete - Germanic order. Mr. Churchill was a man more sensitive to situations, atmosphere, ambiance. Charles, unfortunately, shows neither trait, and although his paintings are not technically poor and they may be loved by the Mums and Dads of England they are empty of force and vision.


Harper McAlpine Black

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