Famed Karsh photograph of Winston Churchill replaced with copy, Château Laurier says

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The Château Laurier is appealing for tips to return a famed portrait of Sir Winston Churchill to its home at the historic hotel after discovering that the original by photographer Yousuf Karsh had been replaced with a copy.

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“We are deeply saddened by this brazen act,” Geneviève Dumas, general manager of the Fairmont Château Laurier, said in a statement.

“The hotel is incredibly proud to house this stunning Karsh collection, which was securely installed in 1998. We will not comment further as the situation will be under investigation.”

The switch was discovered when the photograph was removed from the wall of a hotel lounge because it wasn’t hung properly and the frame didn’t match the others.

Karsh’s estate confirmed that the photograph had been replaced with a copy of the original, the hotel said, adding that it’s working with the estate and has informed authorities.

“As a precautionary measure, the remaining photographs located in the Reading Lounge have been removed until they can be secured properly,” the hotel said.

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“Fairmont Château Laurier is asking the public to share any information they may have to the local authorities,” it added.

The Ottawa Police Service confirmed that it got a complaint about the theft Saturday. The central criminal investigations section is investigating.

The portraits are “part of the hotel’s history” — Karsh operated his studio at the hotel from 1972 to 1992 and he and his wife lived there for 18 years.

Karsh, who died in 2002, photographed some of the most famous people of the 20th century but it was his portrait of a scowling Churchill that brought him the most fame.

Churchill was in Ottawa in December 1941 to address Parliament with Karsh hand-picked for the photo by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King for a portrait.

Churchill was clutching the speech he had just delivered — the famous “Some Chicken. Some neck” speech — and Karsh asked that he tuck the pages away in his pocket. Then, famously, he snatched the cigar from Churchill’s mouth.

“By the time I got back to my camera,” Karsh recalled years later, “he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me.”

with files from Blair Crawford

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