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
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.
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