This is my post from a few years ago on a website called 'Painter's Keys':
I just came across the post by Henryk Ptasiewicz while Googling paintings by Graham Sutherland and felt I had to comment on a number of points, even though the thread was started in 2003.
Mr. Ptasiewicz writes, “For years we had seen, and were familiar with, the photograph of Churchill by Karsh, which captured his personality totally. So there was a great expectation that a painting would be even better.”
Was there expectation that a painting would be even better? How do you know? Is a painting automatically better than a photograph?
“However the final portrait just couldn’t compete with the public image we all had. Sutherland had painted a grumpy old man…”
Well, probably he was a grumpy old man. But the painting (alas, only in reproduction) shows a grumpy old man with tremendous character and charisma. Are you saying that the painting should have depicted ‘the public image we all had,’ even if Sutherland felt that wasn’t the truth? It’s very likely Churchill didn’t get on with Sutherland, as he made no secret of his antipathy toward ‘Modern Art’ (i.e. anything after the Impressionists).
“…and despite lots of pressure otherwise, it was so despised by Lady Churchill, that upon Winston’s death, she destroyed it.”
Yes, that was unforgiveable. A selfish, philistine act.
“There was a tremendous public relief; the masses hated it.”
Was there really? Who showed that relief (apart from Mr. and Mrs. Churchill)? And who exactly are the masses? The taste of the masses, even if they exist, is not the best guide to quality in art.
“We were told that this was great art, and it wasn’t.”
Told by whom? Very few artists deserve to be called ‘great.’ Sutherland probably isn’t a great artist, but he’s a very, very good one whose reputation is rising once more after a period of neglect. The Churchill portrait was probably his best commissioned portrait (although it was said that he couldn’t get the feet right and decided to paint them out) and, in my humble opinion, it was a criminal act to destroy it.
As a postscript, according to a Daily Telegraph story from 2015, Churchill's private secretary destroyed the painting, with Mrs Churchill giving her blessing after the fact.