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Churchill painting gifted to Greek Aristotle Onassis sells for $1.85 mln

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A painting by wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that was gifted to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis sold for $1.85 million at a Phillips auction in New York on Wednesday.

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“The Moat, Breccles,” a signed 1921 oil landscape, went for within its pre-sale estimate price of between $1.5 million and $2 million.

The sale was far less than the $11.6 million netted by another Churchill painting sold by Angelina Jolie at Christie’s last March.

Despite failing to shatter records, the landscape which Churchill mentioned in a December 1921 essay titled “Painting as a Pastime” -- appealed to both history and celebrity buffs.

Jean Paul Engelen, Deputy Chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips Auction House speaks next to The Moat, Breccles painting made by Winston Churchill and owned by the Onassis family, in New York. (AFP)
Jean Paul Engelen, Deputy Chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips Auction House speaks next to The Moat, Breccles painting made by Winston Churchill and owned by the Onassis family, in New York. (AFP)

Churchill kept the painting for 40 years before offering it in 1961, four years before his death, to his friend Onassis.

The tycoon was so proud of his gift that he hung it in a place of honor -- behind the bar of his yacht -- alongside works by Vermeer, Gauguin, El Greco and Pissarro.

This super yacht, named “Christina” after Onassis’s daughter, was a former Canadian Navy frigate, nearly 100 meters long. It had been a part of the Normandy landings before Onassis bought the ship post-war for $34,000.

Onassis had it lavishly renovated to the tune of $4 million, making it “one of the most incredible structures that floated,” Phillips Deputy Chairman Jean-Paul Engelen told AFP.

It was a favored gathering spot for the rich and famous, including Elizabeth Taylor, John F. and Jackie Kennedy, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, J. Paul Getty, Eva Peron and others.

When Onassis died in 1975, seven years after his marriage to Jackie Kennedy, the yacht was sold and everything on board placed in storage, until his heirs recently decided to part with the painting.

To spur interest in the canvas, Phillips has recreated the bar on the “Christina” -- known as Ari’s Bar -- in its New York showroom, including facsimiles of its famous whale teeth, and filled the shelves with Pol Roger champagne, Churchill’s preferred bubbly.

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