8 – Graham Sutherland

Panel 8 Graham Sutherland (1903 – 1980)
Graham Sutherland became identified as a member of the English neo-romantic movement of the 1930s along with John Piper and Paul Nash.  He was born in Streatham but it was a family holiday in Dorset that saw the beginning of his interest in nature as a subject for drawing and sketching. He was apprenticed as a railway engineer before studying engraving at Goldsmiths College, London. His early prints of pastoral subjects show the influence of Samuel Palmer. After his marriage he moved to Kent but began spending the summer in Swanage (1928-33). Many of his etchings from this time show scenes of Dorset rural life, and in 1932 he depicted the Great Globe at Durlston in an iconic Shell Advertising poster.

He did not begin to paint in earnest until he was in his mid-30s, following the collapse of the print market 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 and sometimes giving his work a disquieting, almost threatening surrealist appearance. In 1936 he exhibited in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, though Sutherland was only on the fringes of the movement: ‘Surrealism helped me to realise that forms which interested me existed already in nature, and were waiting for me to find them’.

He took up glass, fabric and poster design during the 1930s, and from 1940 he was employed as an official war artist depicting mining, industry and bomb damage.  Following the war he produced several religious pieces, the most famous of which is the tapestry ‘Christ in Glory’ (1962) for Coventry Cathedral.  Sutherland also painted a number of portraits, including a famous one of Somerset Maugham (1949). His  portrait of Winston Churchill (1954) was famously destroyed on the orders of Lady Churchill.

Peter John Cooper
Main picture provided by The Shell Art Collection