The Gate Museum


Famed Churchill Painting Sells at Auction for Record Sum


"The Tower at Katoubia Mosque" Sells for Record 8.2 Million Pounds ($11.5 Million) in Christie's Auction

The famed painting "The Tower at Katoubia Mosque", by the late prime minister Winston Churchill, has been sold at auction in London for a record 8.2 million pounds ($11.5 million). The painting, which depicts the Katoubia Mosque behind the walls of Marrakesh's old city with the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the background, was painted in 1943, one day after the Casablanca Conference ended, and of over 500 paintings that Churchill painted between 1917 and 1960 is the only painting he created during World War II. It was given by Churchill to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a gift to commemorate their unplanned and dangerous trek from Casablanca to Marrakesh at the urging of Churchill. The Prime Minister knew a close friendship with the President was of absolute importance for the alliance to prevail. His charm offensive in Casablanca did not work and so, Churchill invited Roosevelt to Marrakesh several dangerous hours away “to view the sunset over the Atlas Mountains.” Roosevelt, intrigued, went against the wishes of his Secret Service. The President was stunned when getting to Marrakesh (just in time) that the beauty of it all was staggering. They became best mates with Churchill’s grand gesture. He painted the scene the next day after Roosevelt’s departure. It would hang in the Oval Office until President Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, Georgia.

After the president's death, the picture went to the Roosevelt family seat, Hyde Park on the Hudson River. Elliott Roosevelt later sold the painting, and it eventually made its way in 2011 to a gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was anonymously purchased by the noted actor Brad Pitt for an undisclosed sum. The picture would hang in the Jolie-Pitt household until 2014, when Millennium Gate Museum chief curator Josephine English Cook tracked it down while researching for the upcoming exhibition "The Art of Diplomacy: Winston Churchill and the Pursuit of Painting", which was choreographed to hang in the Millennium Gate Museum from October of 2014 to February of 2015, honoring the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill. In the course of her research for this exhibition, English discovered not only the incredible story behind the creation of this work, but also that it had vanished after it sold in New Orleans. Realizing the extraordinary historical value of this picture, she immediately told the Millennium Gate Museum president that the narrative of the exhibition had to be Did Art Save the Western World, and that this painting was the only acceptable centerpiece for such an exhibition. Moved by the powerful narrative, Rodney Cook, Jr. agreed with the curator and tasked her with tracking "The Tower at Katoubia Mosque.”

The Churchill family have a generational affinity for the colony, and now the state, of Georgia. The co-founder of Georgia, General James Oglethorpe, was trained in military tactics by Sir John Churchill, created First Duke of Marlborough for saving England from King Louis XIV at the Battle of Blenheim. Oglethorpe's brother was aide-de-camp to Churchill, and James Oglethorpe was aide-de-camp to Prince Eugene of Savoy. Georgia exists primarily for military purposes, to protect Charleston and Carolina from Spanish Florida and the Spanish royal governor at St. Augustine. Churchill taught Oglethorpe all he knew about military tactics, and so Georgia has the Churchill family to thank for the success of our colony in its early days. Subsequent generations of Churchills have traveled here, have married here, and have lectured here, including Sir Winston at Georgia Tech and other locales. It was determined by the Churchill family that Georgia be the location for this great exhibition on this particular 50th anniversary, and they sent pictures off their walls that have never been seen before in public. The final number of Churchill paintings in the exhibition rivaled President Eisenhower's exhibition of his friend Sir Winston's paintings at the Smithsonian in the 1950s.

Our’s was an eight-Georgia-city blockbuster exhibition, and could only be seen in Georgia. Almost 1 million people came to see it, including senators, governors, civil rights leaders, and a former president of the United States. The narrative of the exhibition conceived by Josephine English Cook, Did Art Save the Western World, so moved the Pitts that they anonymously agreed to lend the painting to the Millennium Gate Museum for the exhibition. The Wall Street Journal subsequently published the announcement of our exhibition on the front page of their Sunday arts section. They announced that we were opening this world-class exhibition in LaGrange, Georgia. Our LaGrange Callaway friends, and board member Bob Harris, greatly assisted us in doubling the amount of paintings the Churchill/Sandys family were lending, and so out of loyalty to them we opened the exhibition at Hills and Dales Museum, and the Wall Street Journal exclaimed that this world-class exhibition organized by the Atlanta Millennium Gate Museum was opening in a city they had never heard of. This fact, and the narrative so intrigued Mr. Pitt that he contacted us and allowed that we could use his name if we so desired, but not until it opened in Atlanta. He also indicated, if we didn't mind, to add some information to the "tombstone" plaque next to his painting; he revealed that he was getting married, and if we could please include Angelina Jolie on the tombstone.

We were happy to comply. We are hopeful that we contributed to the legacy of such a great man, and certainly to the value of his pictures due to our exhibition. It was an honor and a privilege to have his most prized possessions in our ‘house’ for a year, and the National Monuments Foundation owes deep gratitude to Duncan Sandys for this artistic and historical magnificent endeavor.