Why Churchill's most famous photo had no cigar

Ready for a little cigar history today? Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be "no cigar" history. In a column I read last month titled, "No reason to scowl" by John Sewell in The Ottawa Citizen, a reader wrote that he had inherited a black-and-white portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from his late grandfather that was signed by the photographer, Yousuf Karsh. The reader also mentioned that his grandfather had served for Canada during WWII, and that in 1945 Churchill came to Ottawa to address his grandfather's division heads at a luncheon. After paying tribute to their efforts, Mr. Churchill presented each of them with one of the signed portraits.

According to Mr. Sewell, "This is the photo that put Yousuf Karsh on the map and some argue it's the best portrait of anyone ever taken."

The story behind how this portrait came to be is as interesting as the portrait itself. At the time, Churchill was not in the mood to have his picture taken and Karsh was told he would only give him two minutes of his time. While Karsh set up the lights and camera, Churchill, as usual, smoked a cigar. Then, to Sir Winston's surprise, Karsh snatched the cigar away from him and snapped the shot. The result was the now famous portrait shown here.

"The intense scowl on Churchill's face may have been all about the cigar, but it also offered a glimpse into the depth of character and conviction that helped win the war," wrote Mr. Sewell.

And that's the way it was.

Oh, by the way, Mr. Sewell also estimated the value of the portrait at about $10,000.

~ Gary Korb


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