With the click of the camera (and the removal of a cigar), an Ottawa photographer captured an image that immortalized a world leader’s resolve, even in the darkest days of the Second World War. The Roaring Lion by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, C.C., is one of the most celebrated photographs of the 20th century, the one that launched his international career. And it is yours to keep thanks to this impeccable 10 oz. fine silver coin, which turns the lens on both the master photographer and his subject, Sir Winston Churchill.
The Roaring Lion
Seen here, the black-and-white photograph of Sir Winston Churchill was taken in Ottawa on December 30, 1941, after the British prime minister delivered his speech in the House of Commons. In that brief moment on Parliament Hill, Churchill’s deep scowl was not directed at the enemy but at the photographer: to get his shot, Karsh had boldly plucked the cigar from the statesman’s mouth. The defiant stare gave way to an amused smile, and Churchill praised the photographer: “you can even make a roaring lion stand still to photograph him.”
Did you know?
Housed at the Library and Archives of Canada, the Yousuf Karsh Collection includes six negatives from this 1941 session with the famous statesman. The first shot is this scowling portrait; the others show a smiling Churchill, then the two prime ministers together, and a final shot from behind as Churchill’s cigar was being lit.
In December 1941, Sir Winston Churchill decided to visit Washington, D.C., and Ottawa to rally support for the war effort. It was a risky journey: the visits took place just a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 10-day transatlantic crossing had been under threat of U-boat attacks.
Canada’s prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, invited Karsh to photograph Churchill after his speech on Parliament Hill — but no one told the British prime minister. Churchill agreed to one photograph but famously refused to dispose of his newly lit cigar.
After watching Churchill from behind the camera, Karsh quickly moved towards his subject and said, “Forgive me, sir” before snatching the cigar and taking the shot. Karsh later recalled: “By the time I got back to the camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me.”