March 25, 2023

A landmark hotel in Ottawa is now the scene of an art heist. “The Roaring Lion”, an original and iconic portrait of Winston Churchill, has been installed in the reading room at Laurier Castle for decades – but last week, a hotel employee discovered something was wrong.

Geneviève Dumas, the hotel manager, said: “Basically someone came, took the real one, and put a fake one, so similar, we couldn’t see the difference.”

Winston Churchill’s “Roaring Lion” portrait.

Yusuf Cash

This photo was taken by photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1941, when Churchill visited Canada. Moments before the photo, the then prime minister said in a wartime speech to parliament: “Unite and keep fighting!”

In 1977, Cash spoke to “60 Minutes” Molly Sarver about the famous frown in the photo. He said it happened after Churchill refused to take out his cigar.

“I said, ‘Forgive me, sir.’ When I got back four feet from the camera, he was looking at me so belligerently, he could devour me. I clicked. That’s the picture,” Cash said.

This photo changed Cash’s life. He shot to fame, becoming one of the most famous portrait photographers of the 20th century.

“I like these people and their quality,” he told Safer in 1977.

Using photos from the public, investigators determined the theft occurred about eight months ago. Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent who specializes in stolen art, believes it may have been an inside job.

“In fact, safety bolts have to be identified, tools have to be obtained to break those safety bolts, someone has to get in during off hours when no one else is there,” he said.

The portrait is worth six figures. As a precaution, the hotel has removed Cash’s other works.

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