Someone is out there with a golden toilet that doesn’t belong to them.
The 18-karat-gold toilet disappeared from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, on September 14, 2019—only two days after the palace installed it as part of an art exhibition by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The solid gold toilet has been valued at around $6 million. And because it is fully-functioning, the early morning theft caused damage and flooding to the historic palace.
The room in which the toilet sat was right next to the room where future prime minister Churchill was born on November 30, 1874. Churchill’s nanny raised him at the Oxfordshire palace in the years before he went away to boarding school, and the palace was also the home he returned to on school holidays. At age 33, he proposed to 23-year-old Clementine Hozier in the Temple of Diana summerhouse in the palace gardens.
“At Blenheim I took two very important decisions: to be born and to marry,” Churchill reportedly said of the estate. “I am content with the decision I took on both occasions.”
After hearing about the toilet theft at Blenheim Palace, Cattelan joked in a statement that the robbers are the “the real artists” for pulling off such a stealthy heist of his artwork, titled America. “From the speed the robbery was executed we can say for sure they are great performers,” he said. He also made a request: “Dear thieves, please, if you are reading this, let me know how much you like the piece and how it feels to pee on gold.”
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Churchill may not have grown up knowing how that felt, but he was nonetheless born into extreme opulence and political power. Blenheim Palace is the ancestral home of the dukes and duchesses of Marlborough, of which Churchill was a direct descendant (his paternal grandfather was the seventh duke of Marlborough). By the time Churchill was born, his family was already an established part of the ruling aristocratic class.
The palace was a gift from Queen Anne to Sarah Churchill, first duchess of Marlborough and one of the queen’s closest political advisors, after the duchess’ husband led the English to victory in the 1704 Battle of Blenheim. The 2018 movie The Favourite dramatized this with an opening scene in which the queen shows the duchess a model of the palace she wants to build for her.
The queen and duchess secured financial help for the palace from the English Parliament, and construction began in 1705. However, a falling out between the two women over jealousies and intimate letters led the queen to withdraw funding and caused the duke and duchess of Marlborough to go into exile for three years. They returned after the queen died in 1714 and continued to work on the palace. The duchess oversaw much of the construction, which finished in 1722 shortly after her husband’s death.
Like the first duke and duchess of Marlborough, the descendants born in Blenheim Palace continued to hold positions of great political power. Both Winston Churchill’s father and paternal grandfather served as Members of Parliament for the Conservative Party. As Conservative Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945, Churchill led the Allied forces to European victory in World War II. He also served a second term as Prime Minister from 1951 to 1955.
Churchill’s family opened the palace to the public for the first time in 1950; and although his family still owns it, it is now a public attraction and UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2014, the Blenheim Art Foundation formed to hold public art exhibitions at the palace. The first artist to hold a show there was the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
U.K. authorities have not yet found the stolen toilet from Cattelan’s exhibition, but the Blenheim Art Foundation notes on its website that the show, titled “Victory is Not an Option,” will continue. In a tweet on the day the toilet disappeared, the palace asked anyone with information about the theft to contact the Thames Valley Police.
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