Winston Churchill ‘Roaring Lion’ Portrait Stolen
The famous picture was pilfered, and a fake put in its place.
By: Kelli Ballard | August 31, 2022 | 787 Words
An art heist in Canada led to the theft of a famous photo of the renowned British leader Winston Churchill. The portrait, named “The Roaring Lion,” had been displayed in the hotel Chateau Laurier’s reading room for years. It was captured by Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh back in 1941 and was surrounded by other images by the artist. It wasn’t until an employee noticed the frame for Churchill’s likeness was different than the others that anyone realized the photo had been taken.
Someone had stolen the picture and replaced it with a fake. The hotel manager, Genevieve Dumas, explained, “Basically somebody came, took the real one, put a fake one which was so similar that we could not see the difference.” Authorities specializing in stolen art think it was taken about eight months ago.
Why is this picture so famous? Churchill was the British prime minister during World War II, when the portrait was taken. After the United States joined the war in 1941, Churchill visited the US and Canada. The photo was shot just after the leader gave a wartime speech to the Canadian parliament, encouraging the countries “To fight on in unity together!”
He was also famous for chomping on his cigar, so when Karsh stepped up to him and said, “Forgive me sir,” before removing the cigar from the prime minister’s mouth, the scowl that followed was captured in the photograph. “By the time I got back four feet to my camera, he looked at me so belligerently, he could have devoured me. I clicked. And that is the picture,” Karsh said.
Who Was Winston Churchill?
At first, Churchill was a journalist and soldier. In 1899, he became a celebrity in Britain after the London Morning Post assigned him to cover the Boer War in South Africa, and he was captured by the enemy. Tales of his escape through a bathroom window spread and made him popular.
Churchill’s next step was to go into politics. In 1900, at age 26, he joined the British House of Commons and worked towards social reforms such as a minimum wage and eight-hour work days. In 1911, he became the First Lord of the Admiralty, which is similar to the US Secretary of the Navy. He started the Royal Naval Air Force and worked to modernize the military. He even helped to invent one of the earliest tanks, according to History.com.
During World War I, Winston Churchill was instrumental in the victory against the Germans. Years later, the Germans, still upset over losing WWI, were getting ready for more conflict. By 1933, the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, had come into power in Germany. Churchill tirelessly warned that the group was a threat. No one took him very seriously at first, until the situation got worse and the world saw the danger.
When Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles and invaded Poland, Britain and other countries took notice and interfered, which started World War II. Churchill became British prime minister and urged the people to fight back against the Nazis. During his first speech as the country’s leader, he told the House of Commons, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He continued:
“We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”
He wasn’t called the “British Bulldog” for nothing.
As the name of the “Roaring Lion” portrait suggests, Churchill is often associated with the king of the jungle due to his strong and “lionhearted” leadership during the war. In 1943, London Zoo even gifted him a lion called Rota, to celebrate battle victories in Africa – although Churchill insisted the lion should keep living at the zoo. On his 80th birthday, Churchill commented: “It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion’s heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”
To many, Churchill is considered a great leader and hero for standing up against a “bully.” Queen Elizabeth even made him a knight of the Order of the Garter in 1953.