John Winant

John Winant.

hyde park gate
HYDE PARK GATE

My life, living with the Epstein’s in Hyde Park Gate in 1946/47 when I was secretary /amenuensis to Jacob Epstein, the sculptor, acquired added interest when I met what today would be described as celebrities. They came, out of simple friendship, or in some instances to have their heads sculpted. Among them was the American ambassador, John G.Winant, appointed by Roosevelt when he and the then ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, fell out over attempts to involve America in World War 2. Kennedy believed the Nazis would win the war. He was not a friend of Britain when Britain needed friends as never before. When Winant was met at the station by King George (the first time the King had traveled to meet anyone in person) he said of his appointment to Britain, “There is nowhere I would more like to be”.

On a dark evening in 1946 I answered the doorbell of 18 Hyde Park Gate to reveal a tall, slim, good looking man with dark bushy eyebrows. The Epstein house was opposite the house where Churchill lived, and Winant was involved in an affair with Sarah Churchill, Winston’s daughter; but she was out, and Winant was using the opportunity to visit an old friend. I told him that Epstein was away for the evening, but Mrs Epstein was at home. “Then I’ll see Mrs Epstein,” he said.

I took him into the living room where he was warmly received by Mrs Epstein, and then I retired to a small adjoining room where I was working. We had an arrangement that when Epstein was absent (usually with his mistress) she received lone visitors I would leave the door slightly ajar and she would tap three times with her walking stick when it was time for them to go; she was then in her early seventies. The stick tapping came eventually, but it was to ask me to take Winant into the studio and let him see Epstein’s bronze statue titled Lucifer, a fairly recent work which had been attacked by the art establishment, not an unusual experience for Epstein. I had written a small piece about the art world’s negative reaction to Lucifer in the magazine Illustrated, and I promised to send Winant a copy. We shook hands and he departed. I don’t know what he made of this ingénuous youth in red shirt and green cord trousers, but I eventually received a friendly thankyou letter. What I have retained over these many years is an aura of a personality emanating from a figure standing on the step when I opened the door, not unlike the reaction I had when I first opened the same door to Churchill.

Today, apart from the shrinking number of oldies left over from World War 2, the name Winant means little or nothing to most people . Yet he was a key figure in establishing the special relationship which resulted in America entering the war on the side of Britain, which resulted in Hitler’s ultimate demise.

Aside from his later relationship with Sarah Churchill, which had a tragic ending, he became a close friend of the Churchill family. Much of his life after the Wall Street crash was live in financial insecurity, though he remained permanently respected in the American political scene after his return to the US. His personal life, however, deteriorated and he became a somewhat sad and lonely figure. He had proposed marriage to Sarah Churchill but, still recovering from a first broken marriage, she had turned him down.

In the year following his visit to Hyde Park Gate I opened a newspaper and read that he had shot himself with his son’s revolver.

John Finch

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