- Employees of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Canada noticed that a famous portrait of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was not hung properly.
- They quickly realized it was a fake, replaced it with the real one, and an investigation was launched.
- Photographer Yousuf Karsh credits the portrait with changing his life.
A famous portrait of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appears to have ended up at the center of a robbery.
The portrait, displayed at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Canada, was documented by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1941, and installed in 1998, the hotel announced on Facebook Monday.
The hotel said the photograph had been replaced with a copy of the original.
When asked how they found out about the switch, a rep said someone noticed the photo wasn’t hanging properly, so they removed it. That’s when they noticed something was wrong.
Jerry Fielder, the manager of Karsh’s estate, told The New York Times that he believed there was “no chance” the photo could have been replaced with a copy.
Then the hotel sent him a close-up photo of what was supposed to be Karsh’s signature. “I was stunned,” Fielder told the outlet, adding that it was doctored. “It was a robbery.”
The hotel asked those with information to share it with Ottawa police.
In the famous photo, the former prime minister looks stoically into the camera, his left hand on his hip while his right hand rests on a nearby chair.
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“I knew after taking it that it was an important photo”
Karsh, the 20th-century photographer who took the picture, said the day changed his life, and his website offers an intimate look at the moments leading up to his portrait being taken.
“I knew after taking it that it was an important photo, but I could hardly imagine that it would become one of the most reproduced images in the history of photography,” he said. in an excerpt on its website.
According to the photographer, Churchill had visited Washington and then Ottawa; Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King invited Karsh to join him, so he waited in the president’s bedroom where his lights and camera had been set up the night before.
King entered the room, his arms intertwined with Churchill’s, and when Karsh turned on his spotlights, Churchill demanded to know “What is that?”
Karsh shyly asked if he could have his portrait taken to celebrate the “historic occasion”, at which Churchill asked why he had not been informed of the photo in advance.
After onlookers laughed, Churchill lit and blew a cool cigar, then agreed to have his picture taken. But the conspicuously absent cigar appears to be the reason for Churchill’s troubled expression in the famous photo, according to Karsh’s recollection.
The photographer held out an ashtray for Churchill to extinguish the cigar, only for him to continue smoking. Karsh waited some more, then “snatched the cigar from his mouth.”
“By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have eaten me up,” he said of the reunion. “That’s when I took the picture.”
In another photo taken that day, Churchill gives the camera a reluctant smile. And another captures him laughing with King, Canadian Prime Minister.
Geneviève Dumas, general manager of the Fairmont Château Laurier, said in a message Monday that the hotel was “deeply saddened by this brazen act.”
“The hotel is incredibly proud to house this magnificent Karsh collection… We will not comment further as the situation will be investigated,” Dumas wrote.
Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She’s from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email him at [email protected]