The Roaring Lion

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The Roaring Lion
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill.jpg
ArtistYousuf Karsh
Year1941 (1941)
Dimensions30.8 cm (12.1 in) × 24.0 cm (9.4 in)
LocationOttawa, Canada Edit this at Wikidata
CollectionLibrary and Archives Canada Edit this on Wikidata
Accession No.MIKAN 3915740 Edit this on Wikidata

The Roaring Lion is a black and white photographic portrait of a 67-year-old Winston Churchill as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The portrait was taken in 1941 by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.[1]

Date and location of photography[edit]

The photograph was shot on December 30, 1941, in the Speaker's Chamber of the Canadian Speaker of the House of Commons at Parliament in Ottawa after Churchill delivered his "Some chicken, some neck" speech on World War II to Canadian members of parliament.[2] The brief photo session was arranged by the Canadian prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King.[3]


Churchill is particularly noted for his posture and facial expression, likened to the wartime feelings that prevailed in the UK—persistence in the face of an all-conquering enemy. The photo session was only to last two minutes. Karsh asked the prime minister to put down his cigar, as the smoke would interfere with the image. Churchill refused, so just before taking the photograph, Karsh quickly moved toward the prime minister and said, "Forgive me, sir," while snatching the cigar from his subject's mouth. Karsh said, "By the time I got back to the camera, he looked so belligerent, he could have devoured me".[4] His scowl has been compared to "a fierce glare as if confronting the enemy".[3] Following the taking of the photo, Churchill stated, "You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed," thus giving the picture its notable name.[5]

USC Fisher Museum of Art described it as a "defiant and scowling portrait [which] became an instant icon of Britain's stand against fascism."[6]

Impact on Karsh's career[edit]

The resulting image—one of the 20th century's most iconic portraits—effectively launched Karsh's international career.[1]

My portrait of Winston Churchill changed my life. I knew after I had taken it that it was an important picture, but I could hardly have dreamed that it would become one of the most widely reproduced images in the history of photography.[7]

— Yousuf Karsh

Signed prints of this portrait from Karsh's studio were produced using gelatin silver on paper. They were signed as "© Y Karsh Ottawa" in white marker in the lower left or lower right corner. This later changed to Karsh signing in ink on one of the lower corners of the white border surrounding the photograph. Early print sizes ranged from 8+12 by 11 in (220 by 280 mm) or 11 by 14 in (280 by 360 mm) then progressed to 16 by 20 in (410 by 510 mm) and 20 by 24 in (510 by 610 mm) respectively in later years.[8]

The original negative and the vast collection of Karsh's images were donated by his estate to the Library and Archives Canada in 1992. Since then, copies taken from the original negative have not been allowed.[9] In 1998, an original signed print of the image was installed in the reading room of the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel in Ottawa, where Karsh had operated his studio from 1972 until 1992. Karsh, with his wife Estrellita, lived in the hotel for nearly two decades.[9] On August 19, 2022, it was discovered that this print had been stolen and replaced with a fake.[9][10][4] A staff member noticed that the frame on the picture did not match the other five portraits in the lounge, which Karsh also donated. Jerry Fielder, the director of Karsh's estate, immediately recognized that the Karsh signature on the print was a forgery and said that the stolen print was made from the original negative by Karsh in his Château Laurier studio. He stated it was 20 by 24 in (510 by 610 mm), printed on photographic paper and mounted on archival board.[9]


The photograph appeared on the cover of the May 21, 1945, issue of Life,[11] which bought its one-time use for $100. One of the first prints of the original negative hangs on the wall in the Speaker's Chamber of the Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada, where the image was photographed. In 2008, Canada Post released a $1.60CDN commemorative stamp of the image; 325,000 copies were printed. Since 2013, it has appeared on the £5 note issued by the Bank of England.[10] In 2019, the Royal Canadian Mint, with permission from the Karsh estate, released a 10 oz (280 g) pure silver $100CDN face value coin. Only 700 examples were minted.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "From Colonel Sanders to Grace Kelly: Iconic American Portraits by Yousuf Karsh". Smithsonian Magazine. November 19, 2013. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  2. ^ Cobb, Chris (January 4, 2012). "Winston Churchill 70 years ago: 'Some chicken! Some neck!'". International Churchill Society. Retrieved September 3, 2022.
  3. ^ a b "The Day Winston Churchill Lost His Cigar". Smithsonian Magazine. November 19, 2013. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Famed Churchill portrait stolen from hotel and replaced with fake". The Guardian. August 23, 2022. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  5. ^ "Canada Mint Releases Winston Churchill 'The Roaring Lion'". Yousuf Karsh. Retrieved September 2, 2022.
  6. ^ Travis, David (June 9, 2015). "Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes". USC Fisher Museum of Art. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  7. ^ a b "10 oz. Pure Silver Coin – Winston Churchill: The Roaring Lion – Mintage: 700 (2019) | The Royal Canadian Mint". Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  8. ^ SGS (April 9, 2019). "SOLD! A Winston Churchill Photograph by Yousuf Karsh Commanded (Scroll Down to See)". The Hot Bid. Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d Albeck-Ripka, Livia; Oxenden, McKenna (August 24, 2022). "Churchill Portrait Disappears in Art Heist in Canada". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  10. ^ a b Frizzell, Sara (August 23, 2022). "Famous portrait of Winston Churchill missing from Ottawa hotel in suspected art heist". CBC News. Retrieved August 28, 2022.
  11. ^ "Winston Churchill". Life. Vol. 18, no. 21. May 21, 1945. ISSN 0024-3019 – via Google Books.

External links[edit]