Nobody knows when exactly it happened, but on Aug. 19, staff at the Chateau Laurier in Canada's capital city noticed something odd about the renowned "Roaring Lion" portrait of Winston Churchill, which has hung in a lounge there since 1998. Per the BBC, the photo’s frame did not match those of other portraits in the room by famed Canadian-American photographer Yousuf Karsh. Upon further investigation, the hotel concluded that the photo in the frame was in fact a copy of the original. The matter has since been reported to the Ottawa police for investigation. The hotel’s general manager put out a statement saying, "We are deeply saddened by this brazen act" and "the hotel is incredibly proud to house this stunning Karsh collection."
Yousef Karsh (1908–2002) found refuge in Canada after escaping the Armenian genocide of the 1920s. He went on to become one of the greatest photographers of the 20th Century, credited with 14,312 portraits, including iconic images of Hemingway, Einstein, Mother Teresa, and many more. However, according to the CBC, he held special fondness for the Churchill photo because it "launched him onto the international stage." It’s been in history books and on stamps and is currently featured on the Bank of England’s £5 note, but the story behind it is nearly as famous as the image itself.
Per the Toronto Star, Karsh made the print especially for the Chateau Laurier. The photo was snapped Dec. 30, 1941, as Churchill was relaxing with brandy and a cigar after addressing Canada’s Parliament. Karsh later explained that Churchill—who was annoyed to have his picture taken in the first place—declined to put down his cigar when offered an ashtray. "I stepped toward him and, without premeditation, but ever so respectfully, I said, ‘Forgive me, sir,’ and plucked the cigar out of his mouth," Karsh recalled. "By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me. It was at that instant that I took the photograph." (Read more Winston Churchill stories.)