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. Sutherland’s early prints of pastoral subjects show the influence of Samuel Palmer, 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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’.
Sutherland’s Portrait of Winston Churchill (1954) was hated by him. After initially refusing to be presented with it at all, he accepted it disparagingly as “a remarkable example of modern art”. Churchill’s wife, Lady Spencer-Churchill, had the painting destroyed within a year of receiving it. However, some of Sutherland’s studies for the portrait have survived.
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. 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 in 1980.
Born on December 8, 1922 in Berlin, Germany he was the grandson of the famed psychologist Sigmund Freud. In 1933, he moved with his family to London to escape the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime. He went on to study at the Central School of Art and Goldsmiths College, befriending Francis Bacon and associating with a group of figurative artists working in London during the late 1940s. He served at sea with the British Merchant Navy during the Second World War.
His early painting career was influenced by surrealism, but by the early 1950s his often stark and alienated paintings tended towards realism. He was an intensely private and guarded man, and his paintings, completed over a 60-year career, are mostly of friends and family. His works are noted for their psychological penetration and often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model. Freud worked from life studies, and was known for asking for extended and punishing sittings from his models. Freud observed of his practice: “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes and, ironically, the more real.” They are generally sombre and thick impastoes, in unsettling interiors.
A rapport with his models was necessary, and while at work, Freud was characterised as “an outstanding raconteur and mimic”. Paintings were divided into day paintings done in natural light and night paintings done under artificial light with sessions of five hours each time. A single painting would take 2,000 hour or more and months to complete and Freud would start at the centre and work outwards.
Freud was one of a number of figurative artists who were later characterised by artist R. B. Kitaj called the “School of London”. They were a loose collection of individual artists who knew each other, some intimately, and were working in London at the same time in the figurative style. Major figures in the group included Freud, #Kitaj, #FrancisBacon, #FrankAuerbach, #MichaelAndrews, #LeonKossoff, #RobertColquhoun, #RobertMacBryde, and #ReginaldGray. From 1949 to 1954 Freud was a visiting tutor at the Slade School of Fine Art of University College London.
Freud’s early paintings, are often associated with German Expressionism (an influence he tended to deny) and Surrealism in depicting people, plants and animals in unusual juxtapositions. Some very early works anticipate the varied flesh tones of his mature style but after the end of the war he developed a thinly painted linear style with muted colours. These were painted with tiny sable brushes. From the 1950s, he began to focus on portraiture, often nudes to the almost complete exclusion of everything else. By the middle of the decade he had developed a much more free style using large hog’s-hair brushes, concentrating on the texture and colour of flesh, and much thicker paint, including impasto. He would often clean his brush after each stroke when painting flesh, so that the colour remained constantly variable. By about 1960, Freud had established the style that he would use, with some changes, for the rest of his career. The later portraits often use an over life-size scale, but are of mostly relatively small heads or in half-lengths.
From the 1950s, he began to focus on portraiture, often nudes to the almost complete exclusion of everything else. By the middle of the decade he had developed a much more free style using large hog’s-hair brushes, concentrating on the texture and colour of flesh, and much thicker paint, including impasto. He would often clean his brush after each stroke when painting flesh, so that the colour remained constantly variable. By about 1960, Freud had established the style that he would use, with some changes, for the rest of his career. The later portraits often use an over life-size scale, but are of mostly relatively small heads or in half-lengths. Freud died in December 2011.
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