The story behind The Beatles’ only known painting

All four Beatles had an interest in art. Lennon had attended art college and was a compulsive doodler, while McCartney was a keen photographer. Later, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney would make painting an important part of their downtime, often raising money for charity from the sale of their work, and Harrison even made a canvas of the outside of his Surrey home, decorating it with colourful swirls.

Up on the 10th floor, in room 1005, each Beatle worked on their own quadrant and signed their name beside it, leaving us with a fascinating insight into the mind of each musician. In the bottom right, the artwork of George Harrison, who introduced the Indian sitar into Beatles recordings, is unsurprisingly the most experimental. Above it is McCartney’s quadrant: the most precise and finely painted, speaking perhaps to the songwriter’s perfectionism. The piece was untitled for decades until a journalist commented that McCartney’s contribution resembled a woman’s genitals.

Images of a Woman was made at a crucial time in Beatles history. Though a burgeoning Asian fanbase saw all five nights in Japan sell out, they were unable to shake the controversy created earlier that year by Lennon’s comment that they were “more popular than Jesus”. “The Beatles gave up touring two months after they were in Tokyo, and they never went back as a group,” Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn told Christie’s. “That’s one of the reasons this painting is so special because they didn’t have this kind of time together again.”

When the time came to break free from the suite and head to the Philippines for the next stage of the tour, the finished piece was donated to the Beatles Fan Club in Japan, later passing into collectors’ hands. It was a tumultuous period for the band, but creating a work of art had helped get them through it. According to Whitaker, “I never saw them calmer or more contented than at this time.”

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *