On Wednesday 15 March, we have our Modern and Contemporary Art auction. We are pleased to be offering two works by Jonathan Warrender, commissioned by Margaret Thatcher, of Chequers in Buckinghamshire. Here Head of Sale, Francesca Whitham tells us more about this important commission.
In the spring of 1982 conflict had just begun between Argentina and the United Kingdom in the Falklands. The Falklands War was to last 74 days, ending on 14 June, with the war cabinet sternly led by Margaret Thatcher, the ‘Iron Lady’. It was during these tumultuous times that artist Jonathan Warrender was invited by Margaret Thatcher to lunch at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat in Buckinghamshire.
Thatcher had admired a painting by Warrender hanging in close friend Lord Hector Laing’s Dunphail residence and he suggested that he would like to gift Thatcher a painting of Chequers for her personal collection.
Warrender spent his childhood in Somerset amongst the undulating Mendip hills, captivated by the vast landscape and the patterns that sprawled across the pastures. In 1966, his family moved to Scotland where he resides today with his wife and children in Ayrshire. Warrender studied at Camberwell School of Art but he found it difficult to find his path during a period when abstraction was all the rage. He focused on his meticulous eye for detail and fascination with perspective.
After studying at Camberwell School of Art, Warrender was introduced to a circle of Sotheby’s clients by a dear friend and fellow artist Andrew Festing. He used his skill in producing infinite detail to create copies for these clients who were looking to sell important works of art. In 1980 Sir Iain Tennant commissioned Warrender to paint his residence in Morayshire, Innes House. This event catapulted his career working on commissions in both the UK and abroad. Warrender’s style became extremely recognisable as he used a ‘bird’s eye view’ perspective to depict the estates and their landscapes. His attention to detail is mesmerising, capturing the texture of every brick and the light catching every blade of grass.
On Saturday 17 April 1982, Warrender found himself in the back of Lord Laing’s Bentley whirling through the country lanes to Chequers, to attend lunch with Margaret Thatcher. The surreal commission commenced. Warrender recalls arriving at the house and being immediately struck by the gardens and landscape surrounding the iconic house.
‘Bluebells were getting ready to chime in the woods and the leafy buds on the lime trees in the Park were the size of [a] mouse’s ear.’ (Jonathan Warrender Memoir, February 2013, Archive Thatcher MSS)
The artist recollects the intimate setting, sat closely together on a round table with Thatcher, her husband Denis, Lord Laing and his wife Marion.
‘As we sat down I remember having to overcome a hot moment of panic due to my extreme proximity to the Prime Minister.’ (Jonathan Warrender Memoir February 2013, Archive Thatcher MSS)
After lunch Thatcher invited Warrender to accompany her in the gardens to locate a view from which to paint the house. They settled on a viewpoint under a tulip tree just opposite the front door. As the whirlwind afternoon drew to a close, Warrender remembers Thatcher proclaiming ‘And now I must see what is happening in those bloody islands.’ (Jonathan Warrender Memoir February 2013, Archive Thatcher MSS)
Warrender started in the May and spent three weeks painting at Chequers which was coming to life as the summer months took hold.
‘What an irony it was for me, that at the same time as Mrs Thatcher handed the historians a pen, she handed me a brush.’ (Jonathan Warrender Memoir February 2013, Archive Thatcher MSS)
Wednesday 15 March | 10.30am GMT
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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