Born in London, Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) is renowned for his surreal abstractions of landscapes and figures.Over the course of his career, Sutherland's aesthetic evolved from a more precise realism to concentrating on disquieting, thorn-shaped caricatures of the world. Sutherland studied engraving and etching at Goldsmiths College from 1920-25, at a time of great interest in these print techniques – an enthusiasm he shared with his contemporaries Henry Moore and Paul Nash. Sutherland only began to paint around 1930, taking the decision to embrace the medium fully after a visit to Pembrokeshire in 1935 during which he drew inspiration from the remote landscape of the area. Along with Moore and John Piper, he would become one of Britain’s foremost Official War Artists, a leading figure in the Neo-Romantic movement, and sometime mentor to Francis Bacon when the latter began his painting career after the war. His visits to the South of France began in 1947, and he would purchase a villa designed by Eileen Gray near Menton in 1955.
training as a printmaker may have influenced his devotion to close observation
of nature. After the war, this would give rise to grandiose paintings of
natural forms, and of nature’s abundance of animals, birds and insects, which
would also be mirrored in his lithographic oeuvre, most notably in the suites A
Bestiary (1968), Bees (1977), and also in the etching and aquatint
suite Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée (1979). His fascination with the
intricacies of organic growth, in which he found a manifestation of the ‘divine
order’, paired with his preference for descriptive line and sensuous use of
color, resulted in the development of a highly idiosyncratic
style. Following an early conversion to Catholicism, Sutherland was a man
of deep religious convictions and his work is thus frequently loaded with
In 1944 Walter Hussey, the vicar of St Matthews, Northampton, commissioned Sutherland to paint a large crucifixion, alongside his commission to Moore for a Family Group. Sutherland’s most important commission was to be the 75 ft. high tapestry of Christ in Glory for Basil Spence’s new cathedral in Coventry, unveiled in 1962. After his first retrospective at the I.C.A. in London in 1951, in 1952 he shared the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Edward Wadsworth and the new generation of post-war British sculptors. In 1953 the Tate Gallery, London held a full retrospective of his work. Further retrospectives followed at the Kunsthalle Basel (1966), the National Portrait Gallery (1977, portraits), the Musée Picasso, Antibes (1998) and the Dulwich Picture Gallery (2005). Today, his works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and the Dallas Museum of Art, among many others.