Famed portrait of Winston Churchill by Yousuf Karsh swiped from Château Laurier in Ottawa

It sounds like a caper from a movie: a thief has swapped out the famous portrait of a scowling Sir Winston Churchill, photographed by Yousuf Karsh in 1941, with an unsigned copy.

A staff member at Ottawa’s Château Laurier noticed on Friday that the frame in the Reading Lounge wasn’t hanging properly and didn’t look the same as the others in the collection.

“This was an original print made especially for the Château Laurier by him,” said Jerry Fielder, director of the estate of Yousuf Karsh.

Fielder said Karsh was particularly attached to the photo, which took his career to an international level.

The photo of a scowling Churchill was taken in the Speaker’s chamber on Parliament Hill after Churchill had addressed Canadian legislators.

Settling in to enjoy a brandy and a cigar, Fielder said, Churchill was irked by having to have his photo taken and told Karsh he could only take one.

After Churchill wouldn’t take it out himself Karsh grabbed the cigar out of the famed British prime minister’s mouth just before snapping the shot, Fielder said.

“He took it from his lips and Churchill gave him that look that’s in the photograph,” Fielder said. “That became the iconic photograph.”

The hotel’s general manager, Geneviève Dumas, says staff are “deeply saddened by this brazen act,” and the hotel is seeking information from the public about the theft.

The collection of portraits — six displayed in the Reading Lounge and another nine in the hotel’s Karsh Suite — was installed in 1998.

Other photos in the lounge have been taken down until they can be secured properly.

The photographer and his wife lived at the Château Laurier for 18 years, and Karsh’s studio was in the hotel for 20 years, from 1972 on.


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