Winston Churchill’s famous ‘Roaring Lion’ portrait was stolen from a Canadian hotel


A well-known hotel in Ottawa is now the scene of an art heist. “The Roaring Lion,” an original and iconic portrait of Winston Churchill, hung in the Chateau Laurier’s reading room for decades – but last week a hotel worker noticed something was wrong.

“Basically someone came, took the real one, put down a fake that was so similar we couldn’t tell the difference,” said Genevieve Dumas, the hotel’s manager.

“The Roaring Lion” portrait of Winston Churchill.

Yousuf Karsch

The picture was taken by photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1941 when Churchill was visiting Canada. Shortly before the photo, the British Prime Minister at the time said in a war speech to Parliament: “Fight on together in unity!”

In 1977, Karsh spoke to “60 Minutes” Morley Safer about the famous scowl captured in the photo. He said it came after Churchill refused to remove his cigar.

“I said, ‘Forgive me, sir.’ When I got four feet back to my camera, he gave me such an aggressive look, he could have gobbled me up. I clicked. And that’s the picture,” Karsh said.

The picture changed Karsh’s life. He catapulted himself to international fame and became one of the most celebrated portrait photographers of the 20th century.

“I enjoy these people and their qualities,” he told Safer in 1977.

Using images from the public, investigators determined that the theft was about eight months ago. Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent who specializes in stolen art, believes it could be an inside job.

“The fact that there were safety bolts that had to be identified, tools had to be obtained to get past those safety bolts, someone had to have off-hours access when no one else was around,” he said.

The portrait is rated with six numbers. The hotel has removed Karsh’s other works as a precaution.

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