Exhibition: Meetings in Marrakech; the Paintings of Winston Churchill and Hassan El Glaoui, Leighton House Museum, London, until March 31 2012
© Gabriel Axel Soussan
Where better to spend a cold, wet January morning than at an exhibition that lets you bask in a hot North African sun?
Meetings in Marrakech is lovely – small but perfectly formed. There are only 24 works, 15 of Hassan El Glaoui's and nine of Winston Churchill's, but all are bursting with movement, colour and an obvious love for their subject.
It also comes with a heart-warming back story. Hassan El Glaoui (now 88 and still resident in Marrakech) is the son of the late Pasha of Marrakech, who was a friend of Winston Churchill.
On a visit to Morocco in 1943, Churchill saw some of Hassan's work and insisted that the young man be allowed to continue with his painting despite the Pasha's objections.
El Glaoui believes he owes a huge debt of gratitude to Churchill: “...I often realise that without that fateful meeting...my parent's attitude to me painting might have prevented me enjoying such a wonderful...life as an artist.”
70 years on from Churchill's visit, Hassan El Glaoui is one of North Africa's most significant and sought-after artists. It's easy to see why.
Churchill once called Marrakech “the loveliest spot in the whole world”; El Glaoui's depictions make it a difficult statement to contest.
The colours are beautiful, the scenes are vibrant and the sunny skies feel hot. Churchill's work is more delicate, more serene, but no less evocative.
Two different views of the same place by two very different men. Yet there are striking similarities in composition, subject matter and palate, if not in execution.
Noting how beautifully the two artists hang together, Churchill's granddaughter Celia Sandys shrugs her shoulders and sums it up in one sentence: “The colours are just the colours of Morocco.”
Particular highlights are Churchill's River near Marrakech (1935), his The Mosque at Marrakech (1948), El Glaoui's Les trois calèches (1969-70) and his Résidence Stynia à Marrakech (1940-45). The heat jumps from the Résidence; the Mosque sparkles under a hot, hazy sky.
In addition to the landscapes, Leighton House has exhibited a few of the horse paintings for which El Glaoui is better known.
These pieces are vivacious composite images of the horse's importance in Moroccan culture and well worth a look.
El Glaoui's daughter, Touria, says her father is excited by Meetings in Marrakech, but increasingly reluctant to let his paintings out of the country.
She talks of his love for his work with a warmth that is entirely fitting for this rather lovely exhibition.
- Open 10am – 5.30pm (closed Tuesday). Admission £5/£3 (includes re-entry for 12 months).
© Churchill Heritage Ltd. Reproduced with permission from the Churchill Heritage Ltd
© Gabriel Axel Soussan
© Ingrid Pullar