The Royal Canadian Mint captures Winston Churchill by Yousuf Karsh
2019 $100 Fine Silver Coin – Yousuf Karsh: The Roaring Lion
During a rare and special visit to the Royal Canadian Mint’s Ottawa facility, Mrs. Estrellita Karsh recounts the scene of when her late husband, Yousuf Karsh, took the iconic photograph of Winston Churchill on Parliament Hill in 1941:
“The brandy, he puts down. But, the cigar, ‘puff’, ‘puff’, he holds on to while Yousuf gets everything ready. Yousuf looks at Churchill and says, “Forgive me, sir” as he pulls the cigar from his mouth and clicks the camera.”
From the Royal Family, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Audrey Hepburn and Nelson Mandela, to Kermit the Frog and Jim Henson, Karsh photographed a countless number of famous personalities during his career - a career that launched in Ottawa 78 years ago when Britain’s Prime Minister reluctantly agreed to pose for “just one photo.”
The Roaring Lion by Yousuf Karsh is one of the most widely reproduced images in the history of photography. For the first time since its existence, the Estate of Yousuf Karsh has granted permission of a reinterpretation – in the shape of a Canadian coin.
Jerry Fielder, Director of the Estate of Yousuf Karsh, accompanied Mrs. Karsh during her visit and explained that while they have permitted the use of the image on stamps, posters, books and more, they never allow interpretations of Karsh’s work. Until now.
How did the Royal Canadian Mint get the honour of interpreting not one, but three portraits by this legendary Canadian photographer? According to Mrs. Karsh and Fielder, the answer is simple: “This is a Canadian coin and Yousuf was an extremely proud Canadian. He would have been very pleased with this reproduction.”
Although this is not the first time that a photograph has inspired the design of one of our coins: Give Peace a Chance, Viola Desmond, Canada’s National Flag and NHL Original Six, it is the first time that a coin series celebrates a photographer.
The Yousuf Karsh series launched in 2015 with the portrait of Albert Einstein, followed by a second coin in 2017 featuring Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a young princess. Each of the three engraved coins are made of 10 oz. of fine silver and include a high-resolution printed copy of Karsh’s original portrait and signature on the packaging.
CAPTURING KARSH'S BRILLIANCE
During our visit, we discovered that Karsh spent most of his time learning everything there was to know about the person who would be sitting in front of the camera. “He had an innate sense of lighting and composition, and it was a gift that came naturally. His focus was on you,” explains Fielder, who also worked alongside Karsh as an assistant.
“He would try to meet with the person before and during this meeting, he would watch what was natural to them. He would discover what their interests are, what moved them, what made them laugh. Then, when it came time for the session, he would watch for an expression that was real and natural – something he recognized from that initial meeting - that’s when he’d take the photo.”
Eric Boyer, Royal Canadian Mint engraver, took this same approach when sculpting the coin, “I spent a lot of time researching images of Churchill because I wanted to ensure that from whatever angle you look at the coin, you would see a true resemblance to the portrait.” And, we couldn’t agree more.
WHAT WOULD KARSH THINK ABOUT THIS COIN?
“He would be very pleased! I don’t know of any other reproduction that is so true to the original. This is marvelous,” says Mrs. Karsh before she glances over at Eric and adds, “He’s done him proud! We’re thrilled. This has been the loveliest experience.”
Discover more about the life and works of Yousuf Karsh: https://karsh.org/
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH
- Listed as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential photographs of all times.
- Gave modern photographers permission to portray leaders from a different angle.
- Featured on the Bank of England’s £5 note - the first time in British history that a statesman is profiled on currency.
ABOUT THE COIN
- The only authorised sculpture (3-dimensional piece) of the portrait in existence.
- Part of a 3-coin series featuring photographs by Yousuf Karsh.
- The obverse features the effigy of King George VI, who was the reigning monarch in 1941 and coincidently, the first member of the Royal Family Karsh photographed.
© Estate of Yousuf Karsh