53 people

An afternoon in Morocco, and what it led to. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Check out the painting above. I had to tweet a news article about it to generate the image and then embed it here, and you’ll understand why in a minute.

It’s called Tower of Koutoubia Mosque. Sir Winston Churchill painted it in 1943.

That’s an actual mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco, built around the year 1158. Marrakesh is about 150 miles south of Casablanca, which is where Churchill and President Roosevelt met to plan strategy against the Axis in World War II.

The biggest thing to come out of the conference was the agreement among the Allies that they would accept only “unconditional surrender” from the Axis to end the war—no negotiated peace. Then, after 10 days of talks, Churchill and FDR traveled to Marrakesh, arriving before sunset before parting ways.

FDR was enamored of the view, and Churchill painted Tower of Koutoubia Mosque for him as a gift.

Roosevelt died before the end of the war, then roughly two decades passed, and then and one of President Roosevelt’s sons apparently sold the painting to a filmmaker.

It spent five decades in a closet in New Orleans, apparently, before a family member or descendent of the filmmaker contacted an antique dealer named M.S. Rau.

The actor Brad Pitt bought the painting from Rau in 2011, and gave it as a gift to his wife, Angeline Jolie. They were later divorced, famously, and Jolie put it up for sale by auction last month.

On Monday, it was purchased for £8.3 million, the equivalent of $11.5 million (after fees) by a buyer who for now, at least, is anonymous.

Now, you understand why I had to go through contortions and Twitter to include a photo of the painting here; I can’t imagine where to begin to license a picture of a painting that just sold for 17 times the net worth of the average American household.

Anyway, this is a painting so steeped in history it’s a wonder it hasn’t turned to tea: Churchill to FDR to Pitt to Jolie, despite spending the vast majority of its existence forgotten in a closet.

Also, Churchill didn’t even start painting until he was 40 years old, and yet he completed at least 500 paintings that we know of — and yet (again; “double-yet”), this was the only painting he did between the years 1939 and 1945, when of course, he had a few other things on his mind.

Want to know what I focus on in this painting though, besides the colors? (Although the colors are striking, especially since we’re conditioned through photos and film to imagine the World War II era as black and white.)

It’s the 53 people in the painting, by my count. We’ll never know anything about them, if they were good or bad, rich or poor, loved or loathed.

We don’t know if Churchill remembered them correctly, and we can be pretty darn sure they had no idea that he saw them, or that they’d be tangentially connected to the ultimate resolution of the greatest conflict in modern world history.

But, there they are, rendered and remembered and shared, and tweeted about, and going for $11.5 million, more than 75 years later.

Mind blown. Thanks, Winnie.


7 other things worth your time

  • Every adult in America” who wants a Covid-19 vaccination will be able to get one by the end of May, President Biden promised Tuesday, speeding up his administration’s previously stated goal by two months. Trust me, we will be watching this. (WashPost)

  • No masks, no closures, no Covid: Texas is lifting its mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday, “making it the largest state to no longer require one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus.” (ABC News)

  • With the rise of electric vehicles, more cities and towns (granted, mostly left-leaning for now) are banning new gas stations. "In the 2020s, this is not the time to be expanding fossil fuel infrastructure," says Woody Hastings, co-coordinator of CONGAS. (Axios)

  • State prosecutors in Manhattan who are investigating former President Donald J. Trump and his family business are sharpening their focus on the company’s long-serving chief financial officer, apparently trying to flip him to get testimony about Trump. (NYT)

  • Neera Tanden, under fire over mean tweets she’d published about some Republicans in the U.S. senate, had to withdraw her nomination to be Biden’s OMB head. Meanwhile, the senate confirmed Gina Raimondo, who had been governor of Rhode Island, as commerce secretary. This led to Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor, Dan McKee, being sworn in as governor, which in turn means his wife, Susan McKee, is now the state’s first lady. Unconfirmed reports as of last night (aka, a frenzied array of posts on Facebook by my childhood friends) suggest this is the same Mrs. McKee who was my fifth grade social studies teacher, [censored] years ago. Small world—but in fairness, also a very small state. (NPR, NPR, Boston Globe)

  • Six Dr. Seuss books — including, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo” — will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery. “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press in a statement. (AP)

  • Speaking of lieutenant governors taking over… meet Kathy Hochul, lieutenant governor of New York, who would take over if Gov. Cuomo is forced to resign (CBS Local, CNBC).


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