One of the most famous portraits of legendary war-time British prime minister Winston Churchill was discovered missing from its Ottawa hotel home last week prompting a flurry of questions and concerns nation-wide, but members of a Victoria institution with its own copy of the work, see no need to take any protective measures.
The work in question is an original print of Yousuf Karsh’s 1941 photograph of the statesman, taken inside the buildings of parliament following Churchill’s speech to parliamentarians and made famous for its subject’s scowl – a result of Karsh’s decision to pluck Churchill’s trademark cigar from his mouth after he refused to do so willingly.
Since 1998 it hung in the Reading Lounge of the Chateau Laurier alongside other examples of Karsh’s work, but on Aug. 19 staff discovered the photo had been replaced with a fake.
The Union Club of British Columbia in Victoria proudly displays it’s own silver gelatin print of the portrait, and has since 2001. While the club is as shocked as anyone about the daring Ottawa heist, general manager David Hammonds said there is little concern their print could meet the same fate.
“The artwork we have in here is secured to the wall with a security lock on them, so it’s not like it can easily be lifted off the wall. Also, being a private club, we are pretty secure here with access to the club restricted to members with access cards. We can tell at any time who has come into the club,” Hammonds said. “A hotel would be different, since the front door is open 24 hours a day … it’s awful that someone managed to get into the (Chateau Laurier), take it down and replace it with a copy.”
Hammonds said all entrances to the club have security cameras, making it even more difficult for any would-be art thieves to make a clean getaway.
To his knowledge, the club has never had a piece of art stolen or go missing since it started collecting and displaying art at its first clubhouse on Douglas Street in 1885.