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The life and works of Sutherland
Estuary with Rocks (1946)
Sutherland's work from 1946 Estuary with Rocks

Graham Sutherland may not be a household name now, but in his time he was internationally famous.

Although a Londoner by birth, Sutherland has strong links to Kent, having lived in Trottiscliffe for many years.

He is most famous for his surreal paintings, but was highly skilled in a number of different disciplines.

He was a contemporary of Picasso and Matisse, and a major influence on both Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud.

Sutherland originally trained as a print maker and etcher, and exhibited in the Royal Academy as a young man. He then turned his hand to more commercial work, including designing glass and fabrics, before getting a commission for a series of advertising posters, including Shell and the London Underground.

The early years
Pink Vine Pergola
Pink Vine Pergola reflects Sutherland's love of the south of France

His early paintings were mainly landscapes, influenced by natural environments, in particular the Pembrokeshire coast, but he began exploring ways of abstracting familiar views, interpreting many of them in surreal ways. In 1936, he exhibited at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London.

In 1940 he was invited to join the War Artists Advisory Committee, a government-run scheme which sponsored qualified artists to record the events and experiences of the Second World War, to help raise morale and to promote British culture.

The scheme was set up by Sir Kenneth Clark, the director of the National Gallery, one of the country's most respected art historians, and father of the late MP Alan Clark. Sutherland's friendship with Kenneth Clark was a major influence on his life. Clark became Sutherland's mentor and patron. The artist stayed at Clark's home, Saltwood Castle, and Clark paid the mortgage on Sutherland's home in Trottiscliffe.

A record of war
Loosening Stone
Loosening Stone, a scene from a Derbyshire limestone quarry

Sutherland spent the war creating a large portfolio of work, documenting bomb damage in London and South Wales, RAF missions in Germany, and a series of images depicting British industry. Among the scenes he painted were mining in Cornwall and Wales, limestone quarries in Derbyshire and arms factories. The images were designed to boost morale by celebrating British industry.

In later life, Sutherland became deeply involved with Catholicism, and produced a number of religious pieces. This led to him being commissioned to create the huge tapestry Christ In Glory which formed the centrepiece of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in 1962.

Painting portraits

As his reputation grew, Sutherland turned his hand to portraits. His first was of Somerset Maugham, but was regarded at the time "purely as an experiment." Sutherland attempted to capture the true personality of his sitters, which was not always a popular decision.

In 1954, both Houses commissioned Sutherland to paint Churchill to mark the leader's 80th birthday. However Lady Churchill made it clear she hated the painting and later destroyed it.




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