|Born||24 August 1903
|Died||17 February 1980 (aged 76)
|Known for||painter, etcher, designer|
|Notable work||Tapestry for Coventry Cathedral|
|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 his work in glass, fabrics, prints and portraits. His work was much inspired by landscape and religion, and he designed the tapestry for the re-built Coventry Cathedral.
Printmaking, mostly of romantic landscapes, dominated Sutherland's work during the 1920s. He developed his art by working in watercolours before switching to using oil paints in the 1940s. It is these oil paintings, often of surreal, organic landscapes of the Pembrokeshire coast, that secured his reputation as a leading British modern artist. Sutherland taught at a number of art colleges, notably at Chelsea School of Art and at Goldsmiths College, where he had been a student. He served as an official war artist in the Second World War drawing industrial scenes on the British home front.
Such was Sutherland's standing in post-war Britain that he was commissioned to design the massive central tapestry in the new Coventry Cathedral. A number of portrait commissions in the 1950s proved highly controversial. Winston Churchill hated Sutherland's depiction of him and publicly humiliated Sutherland when the painting was presented. In 1955, Sutherland and his wife purchased a property near Nice. Living abroad led to something of a decline in his status in Britain. However, a visit to Pembrokeshire in 1967, his first trip there in nearly twenty years, led to a creative renewal that went some way toward restoring his reputation as a leading British artist.
Graham Sutherland was born in Streatham in London, the son of a lawyer who later became a civil servant in the Land Registry Office and the Board of Education. Graham Sutherland attended Homefield Preparatory School in Sutton and was then educated at Epsom College, Surrey until 1919. Upon leaving school, after some preliminary coaching in art, Sutherland began an engineering apprenticeship at the Midland Railway works in Derby. 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 Goldsmiths' School of Art in 1921, specialising in engraving and etching before graduating in 1926. In both 1925 and 1928, Sutherland exhibited drawings and engravings at the XXI Gallery in London.
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, abstracting them to sometimes give his work a surrealist appearance; in 1936 he exhibited in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London. Sutherland converted to Catholicism in December 1926, the year before his marriage to Kathleen Barry (1905-1991), who had been a fellow student at Goldsmith's College. The couple, who were inseparable, lived at various locations in Kent before eventually buying a property in Trottiscliffe in 1945.
Sutherland also took up glass design, fabric design, and poster design during the 1930s, and taught engraving at the Chelsea School of Art from 1926. Between 1935 and 1940, he also taught composition and book illustration at Chelsea. In 1934 he visited Pembrokeshire for the first time and was profoundly inspired by its landscape, and the region remained a source for his paintings for much of the following decade. Sutherland visited the area every year, until the start of the Second World War. Oil paintings of the Welsh landscape dominated his first one-man exhibition of paintings held in September 1938 at the Rosenberg and Helft Gallery in London.
World War Two
Between 1940 and 1945, Sutherland was employed as a full-time, salaried artist by the War Artists' Advisory Committee. He recorded bomb damage in rural and urban Wales towards the end of 1940, then bomb damage caused by the Blitz in the City and East End of London. Almost all of Sutherland's paintings of bomb damage from the Blitz, either in Wales or in London, are titled Devastation:... and as such form a single body of work reflecting the needs of war-time propaganda, with precise locations not being disclosed and human remains not shown.
Sutherland returned to Wales in September 1941 to work on a series of paintings of blast furnaces. From June 1942, Sutherland painted further industrial scenes, first at tin mines in Cornwall then at a limestone quarry in Derbyshire and then at open-cast and underground coal mines in the Swansea area of South Wales. Sutherland spent four months from the end of March 1944 at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Woolwich Arsenal working on a series of five paintings for WAAC. In December 1944 he was sent to depict the damage inflicted by the RAF on railway yards at Trappes and at flying bomb sites at Saint-Leu-d'Esserent in France.
In 1944, he was commissioned by Walter Hussey (the Vicar of St Matthew's Church, Northampton and an important patron of modern religious art) to paint The Crucifixion (1946). This was Sutherlands' first major religious painting and his first large figure study. In 1946, Sutherland had his first exhibition in New York. The same year he also taught painting at Goldsmiths' School of Art. From 1947 into the 1960s, his work was inspired by the landscape of the French Riviera, and he would spend several months each year there. Eventually, in 1955, he purchased the villa Tempe à Pailla designed by the Irish architect Eileen Gray at Menton.
Beginning in 1949, Sutherland painted a number of portraits, with those of Somerset Maugham and Lord Beaverbrook among the most famous. Beaverbrook regarded his portrait by Sutherland, which clearly depicted him as cunning and reptilian, as both an 'outrage' and a 'masterpiece'. Sutherland's Portrait of Winston Churchill (1954) was presented to the subject, who clearly hated it, and it was then subsequently destroyed on the orders of Lady Churchill. However, some of Sutherland's studies for the portrait have survived. In 1951, Sutherland was commissioned to produce a large work for the Festival of Britain. Sutherland exhibited in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952 along with Edward Wadsworth and the New Aspects of British Sculpture Group. From 1948 until 1954, Sutherland served as a trustee of the Tate gallery.
In early 1954, Sutherland was commissioned to design the tapestry for Basil Spence's new Coventry Cathedral. Christ in Glory took three years to complete and was installed in 1962. To complete the work, Sutherland visited the weavers, Pinton Frères of Felletin in France, on nine occasions.
Although Sutherland had converted to Catholicism in 1926, and from 1950 until he died was deeply involved in religion, he never stopped creating work based on nature and natural forms. Sometimes he was able to combine religious symbolism with nature, such as with putting thorns into his religious artwork. Sometimes forms which are often considered threatening in appearance are completely invented and have an organic appearance, as in his work Head III (1953).
In 1967, Sutherland visited Pembrokeshire for the first time in over twenty years and became inspired by the landscape to regularly work in the region until his death in 1980. 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 of prints The Bees (1976–77) and Apollinaire (1978–79).
There were major retrospective shows at the Institute of Contemporary Arts,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 Sutherland, curated by artist George Shaw, was shown in Oxford, in 2011–12.
The main building of Coventry School of Art and Design, part of Coventry University, is named after Sutherland. A radio play, Portrait of Winston by Jonathan Smith is a dramatisation of his portrait of Winston Churchill. The same incident features in the Netflix series, The Crown, and was discussed by Simon Schama in his 2015 BBC television series The Face of Britain by Simon Schama.
Honours and Awards
- 1960 – Order of Merit
- 1962 – Honorary Doctor of Letters, Oxford University
- 1972 – Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 1973 – Commandeur des Arts et Lettres, France
- 1973 – Fellow of the Accademia di San Luca, Italy
- 1974 – Shakespeare Prize, Hamburg
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