Graham Sutherland

Graham Sutherland

Born(1903-08-24)24 August 1903
Streatham, London, England
Died17 February 1980(1980-02-17) (aged 76)
Kent, England
EducationGoldsmiths College
Known forPainter, etcher, designer
Notable work
Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph (tapestry at Coventry Cathedral)
MovementNeo-Romanticism, abstract
AwardsOrder of Merit
Patron(s)War Artists' Advisory Committee

Graham Vivian Sutherland OM (24 August 1903 – 17 February 1980) was an English artist who is 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.[1] 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, Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph. A number of portrait commissions in the 1950s proved highly controversial. Winston Churchill hated Sutherland's depiction of him. After initially refusing to be presented with it at all, he accepted it disparagingly as “a remarkable example of modern art".[2][3] Churchill's wife, Lady Spencer-Churchill, had the painting destroyed within a year of receiving it.[4]

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.[1]


Early life

Slag-ladles (1943) (Art.IWM ART LD 1773)

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 locomotive works in Derby as several members of the extended Sutherland family had previously worked there.[5] 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.[6] In both 1925 and 1928, Sutherland exhibited drawings and engravings at the XXI Gallery in London.[7] While still a student Sutherland established a reputation as a fine printmaker; commercial printmaking would be his main source of income throughout the late 1920s.[5]

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[7]

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.[5] Between 1935 and 1940, he also taught composition and book illustration at Chelsea.[7] 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.[10] Sutherland visited the area every year, until the start of the Second World War.[8] 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.[7]

World War Two

At the start of World War Two, the Chelsea School of Art closed for the duration of the conflict and Sutherland moved to rural Gloucestershire.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] A number of features reoccur within this body of work, for example, the fallen lift shafts that were often the most recognizable aspect of larger bombed buildings and a double row of bombed houses Sutherland saw in the Silvertown area of the East End.[5]

The City a fallen lift shaft (1941) (Art.IWM ART LD 893)
Devastation, 1941: An East End Street (Tate)
Devastation, 1941: East End, Burnt Paper Warehouse (Tate)

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.[14] In December 1944 he was sent to depict the damage inflicted by the RAF on the railway yards at Trappes and on the flying bomb sites at Saint-Leu-d'Esserent in France.[15][16] In all Sutherland completed some 150 paintings as part of his WAAC commission.[11]

Post-war career

The large tapestry Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph in Coventry Cathedral, England, designed by Graham Sutherland, installed in 1962

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).[17] This was Sutherland's 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 spent several months there each year. 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'.[1] Sutherland's Portrait of Winston Churchill (1954) greatly upset the sitter, who initially refused to accept its presentation.[2] It was subsequently destroyed on the orders of Churchill's wife, Clementine.[18] However, some of Sutherland's studies for the portrait have survived.[19] In all, Sutherland painted over fifty portraits, often of European aristocrats or senior businessmen.[20] Following the Churchill portrait, Sutherland's portraits of, among others, Konrad Adenauer and the Queen Mother established him as something of an unofficial state portrait painter. This status was underlined by the award of the Order of Merit in 1960.[20]

In 1951, Sutherland was commissioned to produce a large work for the Festival of Britain.[21] He exhibited in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952 along with Edward Wadsworth and the New Aspects of British Sculpture Group.[22] 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 in the Tetramorph 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.[23]

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).[24]

Later life

Devastation, 1940, A House on the Welsh Border (Tate)

From his portrait work, Sutherland acquired several patrons in Italy and took to spending the summer in Venice. However, in 1967, for an Italian television documentary, 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.[7] 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 in 1951, the Tate in 1982, the Musée Picasso, Antibes, France in 1998 and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2005.[19] A major exhibition of rarely seen works on paper by Sutherland, curated by artist George Shaw, was shown in Oxford, in 2011–12.

Sutherland died in 1980 and was buried in the graveyard of the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Trottiscliffe, Kent.


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, in which Sutherland is played by Stephen Dillane, and was discussed by Simon Schama in his 2015 BBC television series The Face of Britain by Simon Schama. Works by Sutherland are held in the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, Kirklees Museums and Art Gallery, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton Museums and Art Gallery, Pallant House Gallery, Southampton City Art Gallery, The Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art, Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, The Fitzwilliam Museum and The Priseman Seabrook Collection.

Honours and awards


  1. ^ a b c "wales arts, Graham Sutherland". BBC Wales. 13 January 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b Meyer, Michal (2018). "Sketch of a Scientist". Distillations. Science History Institute. 4 (1): 10–11. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  3. ^ Black, Jonathan (23 March 2017). Winston Churchill in British Art, 1900 to the Present Day: The Titan With. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 154–170. ISBN 9781472592415. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Secret of Winston Churchill's unpopular Sutherland portrait revealed". The Telegraph. London. 10 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Paul Gough, Sally Moss & Tehmina Goskar (2013). Graham Sutherland From Darkness into Light, Mining, Metal and Machines. Sansom & Company. ISBN 978-1-908326-38-6.
  6. ^ Ronald Alley (1982). Graham Sutherland. Tate Gallery. ISBN 9780905005485.
  7. ^ a b c d e f HCG Matthew & Brian Harrison (Editors) (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Vol 53 (Strang-Taylor). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861403-9.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  8. ^ a b Frances Spalding (1990). 20th Century Painters and Sculptors. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 1-85149-106-6.
  9. ^ Stephen Farthing (Editor) (2006). 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die. Cassell Illustrated/Quintessence. ISBN 978-1-84403-563-2.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  10. ^ "Graham Sutherland (1903–1980)". British Council. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  11. ^ a b Caroline Lewis. "War Artists - World War Two on Canvas and Paper Part One: The Home Front". Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  12. ^ "Display caption, Devastation, 1941: East End, Burnt Paper Warehouse". Tate. May 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  13. ^ Chris Stephens (November 1998). "Catalogue entry, Devastation, 1940: A House on the Welsh Border". Tate. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  14. ^ Chris Stephens (September 1998). "Catalogue entry, Furnaces, 1944". Tate. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  15. ^ Imperial War Museum. "Correspondence with Artists, Graham Sutherland". Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  16. ^ Brain Foss (2007). War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939–1945. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10890-3.
  17. ^ Chris Stephens (March 1998). "Catalogue entry, The Crucifixion 1946". Tate. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  18. ^ Jonathan Jones (3 November 2001). "Winston Churchill, Graham Sutherland (1954)". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  19. ^ a b Kevin Driscoll (2 September 2005). "The Artist Winston Churchill Loved to Hate". OhMyNews. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  20. ^ a b Chris Stephens (November 1998). "Catalogue entry: Lord Goodman (1973-4) by Graham Sutherland OM". Tate. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  21. ^ "Display caption, The Origins of the Land". Tate. August 2004. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  22. ^ Tom Overton (2009). "Graham Sutherland (1903–1980), Venice Biennale participation". British Council. Archived from the original on 22 November 2016. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  23. ^ Roger Berthoud, ‘Sutherland, Graham Vivian (1903–1980)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
  24. ^ "Sutherland, Graham". Encyclopedia of British Romanticism. Retrieved 17 November 2016.

Further reading

  • Martin Hammer. Graham Sutherland: Landscapes, War Scenes, Portraits, 1924–1950. Scala, 2005
  • Martin Hammer. Bacon and Sutherland. Yale University Press, 2005
  • William Boyd. On Graham Sutherland. Bernard Jacobson Limited, 1993
  • Roger Berthoud. Graham Sutherland: A Biography. Faber and Faber, 1982.
  • John Hayes. The Art of Graham Sutherland. Phaidon Press, 1980.
  • Douglas Cooper. The Work of Graham Sutherland. David McKay Publications, 1961.

External links

Media files used on this page

Devastation, 1940 AHouse on the Welsh Border by Graham Sutherland (Tate N05734).jpg
Devastation, 1940: A House on the Welsh Border 1940 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946
The City A fallen lift shaft (1941) (Art.IWM ART LD 893).jpg
Bomb damaged buildings and twisted girders with smoke behind.
Devastation, 1941, An East End Street by Graham Sutherland (Tate N05736).jpg
Devastation, 1941: An East End Street 1941 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946
Devastation, 1941, East End, Burnt Paper Warehouse by Graham Sutherland (Tate N05737).jpg
Devastation, 1941: East End, Burnt Paper Warehouse 1941 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946
Slag-ladles (Art.IWM ART LD 1773).jpg
A train of large vats of a liquid material with a figure following behind
Christ in Glory tapestry by Graham Sutherland in Coventry Cathedral.jpg
Author/Creator: DeFacto, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
The Christ in Glory tapestry by Graham Sutherland, installed in Coventry Cathedral in 1962. The tapestry, which measures 75 feet by 38 feet (23 m x 11.5 m), is said to be the largest one-piece tapestry in the world.