A LOST “ROARING LION”
The case of the missing Karsh is still unsolved. And, no, we don’t know where it is.
If perchance, you have not yet heard, a large, signed original print of Yousuf Karsh’s immortal World War II portrait photograph of a scowling Winston Churchill (“The Roaring Lion”) has disappeared from a wall at the Château Laurier hotel in Ottawa, Canada, where it hung for 24 years; replaced by a forgery. Strange, but true. A hotel employee noticed at some point in August that the frame for the Churchill photograph did not match the other five Karshes hanging in the room and sounded the alarm. Even a cursory inspection made it clear that this precious prize had been swiped out for a cheap copy with a shoddy forged signature; a deduction soon confirmed by an expert for the Karsh estate.
Yousuf Karsh’s history with the Château Laurier runs deep; his first photo exhibition was presented there in 1936; he kept a studio on the sixth floor from 1972-1992, and lived in a suite on the third floor with his wife Estrellita for nearly two decades until 1998. As a parting gift, when the Karshes moved out, they presented 15 photographs to the hotel, the bulk of which were hung in the Karsh Suite. Six, however, including Winston Churchill, were placed on permanent display as wall ornaments in a lower lounge reading room.
Karsh’s iconic Churchill photograph was snapped on 30 December 1941 in an ante-room of the Ottawa House of Commons following Churchill’s address to the Canadian Parliament. As official biographer Sir Martin Gilbert wrote in his own memoir, IN SEARCH OF CHURCHILL, Churchill was, at that moment,”in [a] happy mood… He had just made a successful speech [‘Some chicken… some neck’]. He had left the parliamentary chamber smiling… Karsh had hoped for something stern and warlike. To secure the picture he wanted, he went up to Churchill and plucked the cigar out of his mouth. ‘By the time I got back to my camera,’ Karsh later recalled, ‘[Churchill] looked so belligerent he could have devoured me. It was at that instant that I took the picture.’”
An intensive police investigation has narrowed the Château Laurier theft date to between December 25, 2021 and January 6, 2022. It is extraordinary how many inquiries we have since fielded about the purloined print. Over our near-40-year existence we have always been extraordinarily vigilant to never act as a fence for stolen Churchilliana, and are not about to start now. The last known sale of a signed Karsh Churchill photograph of this size — the largest that Karsh printed: 16 x 20 inches — was in our 2020 Sotheby’s online auction, “Churchill in Charge” honoring the 80th Anniversary of Winston Churchill becoming PM on May 20, 1940. We have not seen another since, but will let you know if we do.
At this moment, as it happens, a smaller-sized Churchill Karsh is in our inventory, an 11 x 14 signed original print (acquired well before December 25, 2021). Feel free to drop by and see our Karsh any time; it hangs in our lobby gallery.
At least, we think it does.
We wish you continued safety and health, preserved protected and defended from forgeries and frauds.