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Graham Sutherland - Dulwich Picture Gallery

Feature: James Haddrell

OVER 20 years since the last major exhibition of his work in the capital, Dulwich Picture Gallery is to present a new exhibition of work by Graham Sutherland, offering art lovers the chance to experience the work of one of the most important figures in 20th Century British art.

Any exhibition of Graham Sutherland’s work would struggle to come near a definitive collection.

The breadth of work produced in a career spanning over half a century defies categorisation, from landscape to war reportage, celebrity portrait to nature study, but if there is one unifying characteristic it is the ever-present psychology of the painter, shot through every canvas.

Sutherland always discovered an emotional intensity in his relationship with his subject, whether painting a twisted tree root from the Welsh countryside or the victorious Winston Churchill, and always allowed it to influence the final appearance of the work.

In fact, despite having been destroyed, there can be few paintings which remain more prominent in the English public consciousness than Graham Sutherland’s portrait of Churchill.

Presented to Churchill by the Houses of Parliament, and subsequently destroyed by Lady Churchill, the painting epitomises Sutherland’s highly subjective approach to painting.

Having spent as much time in conversation with his subject as he spent sketching, Sutherland completed the painting in his studio without Churchill present, and the result was a unique combination of sketch and memory, observation and emotional reaction.

This technique served him throughout his life as a painter, from the Pembrokeshire landscapes of the 1930s, to the heightened atmospheric French landscapes of the 1950s and beyond, with sketches produced on location and combined in the studio with the creative power of subjective, emotional memory.

Sutherland’s career was interrupted at the end of the Thirties by the advent of war, but he was saved from the munitions factory, for which he had already volunteered, by Kenneth Clark.

Clark was the driving force behind the War Artists' Project, and he arranged for Sutherland to be employed in creating a visual record of the impact of war.

The drawings and paintings produced by the still relatively young artist during this time remain among the most affecting visual records of The Blitz, with Sutherland’s writhing, organic style hinting at the human devastation hidden behind the scenes of deserted, war-torn buildings.

At the end of the war, Sutherland made his first trip to the South of France, and the celebratory colours of the landscapes painted there show a clear excitement about this new countryside, and a sense of relief at the end of the urban destruction of war. It was also in France that he met Picasso (with whom he maintained contact in the years that followed) and Somerset Maugham, the subject of the first of his portraits (pictured).

Dulwich Picture Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition, curated by Martin Hammer, looks in depth at the period from the mid 1930s when Sutherland first visited Pembrokeshire and emerged as a painter ('it was in this country', he wrote 'that I began to learn painting') to around 1950.

Taking in the early works drawn from the Welsh countryside, the war years and the post-war colour explosion from the South of France, there are also smaller sections on his early etchings and his initial experiments with portraiture.

The exhibition also features carefully selected works from other artists in whom Sutherland took a key interest, including Samuel Palmer, whose work influenced Sutherland’s early etchings, and the surrealist, André Masson.

Graham Sutherland
June 15 – September 25, 2005
Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, London SE21 7AD
020 8693 5254; Website
Tuesday-Friday 10am–5pm; weekends & Bank Holidays 11am–5pm
£7 adults; £6 seniors; other concessions £3; unlimited free entry for children and Friends

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