A Moroccan landscape painted by Winston Churchill and owned by Angelina Jolie sold at auction on Monday, smashing the previous record for a painting by Britain’s legendary World War II leader.
“Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” sold at Christie’s fine art auctioneers in London for US$11.5 million, beating the pre-sale estimate of US$2 million to US$3.5 million. The previous record price for a Churchill painting was just under US$2.5 million.
The image of the 12th-century mosque in Marrakech at sunset, with the Atlas Mountains in the background, is a piece of both political and Hollywood history.
The only painting that Britain’s wartime prime minister completed during the 1939-45 war years, the canvas was completed after the January 1943 Casablanca Conference, where Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt planned the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan.
After the conference, the two leaders demanded “unconditional surrender” from Germany, Italy and Japan, a historic declaration that had a far-reaching impact on the war.
The two leaders visited Marrakech after the conference so that Churchill could show Roosevelt the city’s beauty. Churchill gave the painting to Roosevelt as a souvenir of the trip.
“Churchill first visited Morocco in 1935 where he fell in love with the quality of light there,” said Nick Orchard, head of modern British art at Christie’s in London. “He felt that his paintings of the country were among his best.”
The painting was sold by Roosevelt’s son after the president’s death in 1945 and had several owners before actor Brad Pitt bought it as a gift to Jolie in 2011.
The couple separated in 2016 and have spent the ensuing years tangled in divorce proceedings, amid speculation about the division of their extensive art collection.
They were declared divorced in 2019 after their lawyers asked for a bifurcated judgment, meaning that two married people can be declared single again while other issues, including child custody and finances remain.
The painting was sold by the Jolie Family Collection.
The buyer wasn’t immediately identified.