A landmark hotel in Ottawa is now the scene of an art heist. “The Roaring Lion,” an original and iconic portrait of Winston Churchill, was mounted in the Chateau Laurier’s reading room for decades — but last week, a hotel employee noticed something was wrong.
“Basically somebody came, took the real one, put a fake one which was so similar that we could not see the difference,” Geneviève Dumas, the hotel’s manager, said.
The image was captured by photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1941, as Churchill visited Canada. Moments prior to the photo, the then-British prime minister said in a wartime speech to parliament: “To fight on in unity together!”
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.’ By the time i got back four feet to my camera, he looked at me so belligerently, he could have devoured me. I clicked. And that is the picture,” Karsh said.
The image changed Karsh’s life. He catapulted to international fame, becoming one of the most famous portrait photographers of the 20th century.
“I enjoy these people and their qualities,” he told Safer in 1977.
Using pictures from the public, investigators determined the theft happened about eight months ago. Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent specializing in stolen art, believes this could be an inside job.
“The fact that there were security bolts that had to be identified, tools had to be obtained to defeat those security bolts, someone had to have access on an off hour where no one else was around,” he said.
The portrait is valued at six figures. The hotel has removed Karsh’s other works as a precaution.