Saturday, January 21, 2012

Meetings in Marrakech: the paintings of Hassan El Glaoui and Winston Churchill

One of Churchill's Moroccan landscapes
A small exhibition of paintings in London is getting big reviews, not only for the art, but also the unlikely but charming story of an unlikely friendship behind the works. On show at London's Leighton House Museum, are nine paintings by Winston Churchill and fifteen by the revered Moroccan painter Hassan El Glaoui. 

The meeting of the British war leader with the young Berber tribesman back in 1943 changed the direction of the young man's life. As he tells it,"Winston Churchill saw my paintings in my father’s office and advised him to let me continue painting. My father had wanted me to work in agriculture on his estates but on the advice of Churchill, he allowed me to continue painting."

Hassan El Glaoui's Hassan El Glaoui's Les feux du Quadrige (1980)

Hassan El Glaoui, son of the famous El Haj Thami el Glaoui, moved to Paris in 1952 in order to study les Beaux-Arts. El Glaoui had no formal artistic training, but managed to work as an apprentice with French artists Jean Souverbie, and Emilie Charmy with whom he worked for 15 years.

Churchill's artistic career is better known. When, during the irst World War, his friend and later painting partner Paul Maze suggested he should take up painting in order to relax, Churchill did so with enthusiasm, and continued to paint for the rest of his life.

Over the years, Churchill became very fond of Morocco, especially the city of Marrakech and the surrounding mountain valleys where he would spend his holidays. It is from those times that we now have so many fine oils by Churchill.

In regard to the exhibition, the Huffington Post quotes Daniel Robbins, Director of Leighton House Museum as saying: “We are extremely fortunate to have these unique collections here, not only because they are outstanding paintings but because they tell such a remarkable story. They reveal both a hitherto unseen glimpse into the private and artistic life of one of Britain’s most significant figures, Winston Churchill, and the beautifully expressive work of one of Morocco’s most significant painters, Hassan El Glaoui”.

Winston Churchill's The Valley of the Ourika' (1935)

Reviewers have been similarly impressed. Jennie Gillions, writing for the on-line Culture 24, says, "Meetings in Marrakech is lovely – small but perfectly formed. There are only 24 works, 15 of Hassan El Glaoui's and nine of Winston Churchill's, but all are bursting with movement, colour and an obvious love for their subject. Churchill once called Marrakech “the loveliest spot in the whole world”; El Glaoui's depictions make it a difficult statement to contest.The colours are beautiful, the scenes are vibrant and the sunny skies feel hot. Churchill's work is more delicate, more serene, but no less evocative. Two different views of the same place by two very different men. Yet there are striking similarities in composition, subject matter and palate, if not in execution."

 The exhibition: Meetings in Marrakech; the Paintings of Winston Churchill and Hassan El Glaoui, continues at the Leighton House Museum in London until March 31 2012


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