Graham Sutherland

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Graham Sutherland
Born 24 August 1903 (1903-08-24)
Streatham, London, England
Died 17 February 1980 (1980-02-18) (aged 76)
Kent, England[1]
Nationality British
Education Goldsmiths College
Known for painter, etcher, designer
Notable work Coventry Cathedral
Movement neo-Romanticism, abstract
Awards Order of Merit
Patron(s) War Artists Advisory Committee

Graham Vivian Sutherland OM (24 August 1903 – 17 February 1980) was an English artist, notable for glass, fabrics, prints and portraits. His work is much inspired by landscape and religion, and he designed the tapestry for the re-built Coventry Cathedral. He was an official war artist in the Second World War.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Streatham, London, the son of a lawyer who later became a civil servant in the Land Registry Office and the Board of Education. He attended Homefield Preparatory School, Sutton[2] and was then educated at Epsom College, Surrey until 1919. Upon leaving school, after some preliminary coaching in art, he began an engineering apprenticeship at the Midland Railway Works in Derby under advice from his parents. After a year he succeeded in persuading his father that he was not destined for a career in engineering, and that he should be allowed to study art. There being no vacancies at his first choice, the Slade School of Fine Art, he entered Goldsmith's College School of Art in 1921, specialising in engraving.[3]

Early prints and landscapes[edit]

Sutherland's early prints of pastoral subjects show the influence of Samuel Palmer, largely mediated by the older etcher, F.L. Griggs. He did not begin to paint in earnest until he was in his 30s, following the collapse of the print market in 1930 due to the Great Depression. These pieces are mainly landscapes, which show an affinity with the work of Paul Nash. Sutherland focused on the inherent strangeness of natural forms, and abstracting them, sometimes giving his work a surrealist appearance; in 1936 he exhibited in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London.

He also took up glass design, fabric design and poster design during the 1930s, and taught at a number of London art colleges. In 1934 he first visited Pembrokeshire and was profoundly inspired by its landscape, and the place remained a source for much of the following decade. In 1967 Sutherland returned to Wales and was once again inspired by the landscape regularly working in the region until his death in 1980.

Mature work[edit]

The large tapestry of Christ in Coventry Cathedral, England, designed by Graham Sutherland.

War art[edit]

Between 1940 and 1945, Sutherland was employed as an official artist in the Second World War, as part of the war artists scheme. He worked mostly on the Home Front, depicting subjects as diverse as tin mining in Cornwall, open cast coal mining, limestone quarrying, bomb damage in London and South Wales and, later, the damage inflicted by the RAF on bomb depots in occupied France.

Religious subjects[edit]

Sutherland converted to Catholicism in December 1926, the year before his marriage to Kathleen Barry, who had been a fellow student at Goldsmith's College. In 1944, he was commissioned by Walter Hussey (then Vicar of St Matthew's, Northampton and an important patron of modern religious art) to paint The Crucifixion (1946) for St Matthew's Church, Northampton.

In the early 1950s, Sutherland was commissioned to design the tapestry for Basil Spence's new Coventry Cathedral. Christ in Glory took ten years before completion in 1962. Sutherland visited the weavers, Pinton Frères of Felletin, France, on nine occasions.[4]

He also continued to produce work based on natural forms, and managed to blend some of these – such as thorns – into his religious work. Sometimes, as in Head III (1953), these forms, often considered threatening in appearance, have an organic appearance but are entirely invented.

South of France[edit]

From 1947 into the 1960s his work was inspired by the south of France and he purchased the Villa Tempe a païa designed by the Irish architect Eileen Gray at Menton in 1955.

Return to Pembrokeshire[edit]

In 1967, Sutherland visited Pembrokeshire for the first time in over twenty years, and became inspired by the landscape. Much of his work from this point until the end of his life incorporates motifs taken from the area, such as the estuaries at Sandy Haven and Picton. His work from this period includes two suites The Bees (1976–77) and Apollinaire (1978–79).

At some point, probably before the above, Kenneth Clark (of Civilization the TV series) being immensely wealthy, continued his previous sponsorship of Sutherland, by lending "the Sutherlands the down payment for the country house in Kent which they still owned when Sutherland died in February 1980" . {Kenneth Clark Mary Secrest}


Sutherland also painted a number of portraits, with one of Somerset Maugham (1949) the first and among the most famous. His painting of Winston Churchill (1954) was given to the subject and was then apparently destroyed on the orders of Lady Churchill; studies for the portrait have survived.


Sutherland exhibited in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952 along with Edward Wadsworth and the New Aspects of British Sculpture Group.[5]

There were major retrospective shows at the ICA in 1951, the Tate in 1982, the Musée Picasso, Antibes, France in 1998 and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2005.

A major exhibition of rarely seen works on paper by Graham Sutherland, curated by artist George Shaw, was presented at Modern Art Oxford, UK in 2011-12.


The main building of Coventry School of Art and Design, part of Coventry University, is named after Sutherland. Also, a radio play, Portrait of Winston by Jonathan Smith is a dramatisation of his portrait of Winston Churchill.[6] One of the four houses in Queens' School, Bushey is named after him.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trottiscliffe Village Tour
  2. ^ Chris Beetles. "G Sutherland biography". 
  3. ^ Allen, Ronald (1982). Graham Sutherland. Tate Gallery. ISBN 0905005481. 
  4. ^ Roger Berthoud, ‘Sutherland, Graham Vivian (1903–1980)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Afternoon Play - Portrait of Winston". BBC. Retrieved 14 September 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Martin Hammer. Graham Sutherland: Landscapes, War Scenes, Portraits, 1924–1950. Scala, 2005
  • Martin Hammer. Bacon and Sutherland. Yale University Press, 2005
  • William Boyd. On Graham Sutherland. Bernard Jacobson Limited, 1993
  • Roger Berthoud. Graham Sutherland: A Biography. Faber and Faber, 1982.
  • Ronald Alley. Graham Sutherland. Tate, 1982.
  • John Hayes. The Art of Graham Sutherland. Phaidon, 1980.
  • Douglas Cooper. The Work of Graham Sutherland. David McKay, 1961.
  • Kenneth Clark, Moments of Vision

External links[edit]