Via the London Telegraph
By Tim Shipman in Washington
A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government’s art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.
The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush’s tenure.
But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Diplomats were at first reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the Churchill bronze, after its ejection from the seat of American power. But the British Embassy in Washington has now confirmed that it sits in the palatial residence of ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald, just down the road from Vice President Joe Biden’s official residence. It is not clear whether the ambassador plans to keep it in Washington or send it back to London.
American politicians have made quoting Churchill, whose mother was American, something of an art form, but not Mr Obama, who prefers to cite the words and works of his hero Abraham Lincoln. Indeed a bust of Mr Lincoln now sits in the Oval Office where Epstein’s Churchill once ruled the roost.
Churchill has less happy connotations for Mr Obama than those American politicians who celebrate his wartime leadership. It was during Churchill’s second premiership that Britain suppressed Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Among Kenyans allegedly tortured by the colonial regime included one Hussein Onyango Obama, the President’s grandfather.
The rejection of the bust has left some British officials nervously reading the runes to see how much influence the UK can wield with the new regime in Washington.
Now it is likely that Gordon Brown will offer a alternative symbol of Anglo-American fealty when he visits Washington to meet Mr Obama for the first time since he became President. Diplomats are still working to finalise a date for the visit which is expected in the final week of this month or early in March.
One suggestion, given Mr Obama’s interest in the Lincoln era, is that Mr Brown should offer an artefact relating to the career of John Bright, the 19th Century MP and political reformer who became the most prominent British supporter of Lincoln’s Union forces during the American Civil War.
A British Embassy spokesman said: “The bust of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein was uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W Bush, from the Government Art Collection in the wake of 9/11 as a signal of the strong transatlantic relationship.
“It was lent for the first term of office of President Bush. When the President was elected for his second and final term, the loan was extended until January 2009.
“The new President has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned. It is on display at the Ambassador’s Residence.”