A piece of history with ties to Harry S. Truman, Winston Churchill and Thomas Hart Benton came home to Missouri on Thursday.
It’s a 12-by-9-inch painting, “The New Fence,” of a farmer at work.
Benton painted it. Truman presented it to Churchill on March 5, 1946, the day the former prime minister delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton.
The address, one of the most famous orations of the 20th century, condemned Soviet policies in Europe. Churchill had come to Westminster at Truman’s request.
After that, the painting’s trail gets a bit murky.
“We don’t know if Churchill gave the painting to a family member or friend, but it went through many hands and it eventually was sold at auction and purchased by Bank of America,” said Rob Crouse, spokesman for the college.
Westminster alum James Henry Hance Jr., a former executive of Bank of America Corp., saw the Benton painting and had it displayed in his office. That’s when he noticed the notes on the back from Benton and Truman that helped identify it as the one Westminster gave to Churchill.
When he left Bank of America, Hance decided the painting should go home. It has yet to be appraised for its historic value, but Crouse said its estimated worth is “in the six figures.”
On Thursday afternoon, Hance, now with the Carlyle Group, unveiled the painting in the Sinews of Peace Collection Room of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster. The museum is housed in the lower level of a 16th century church — bombed during World War II — that was brought brick by brick from London and restored on the Fulton campus.
“I have been trying to track down the painting,” said Jim Williams, who starts as museum director later this month. “I am thrilled that the mystery is solved and that the painting is returning to Fulton.”