The Graham Sutherland exhibition, like its predecessors devoted to John Piper and Henry Moore, revisits a major figure from a now somewhat neglected generation who dominated the British art scene in the 1930s and 1940s. There has not in fact been a substantial Sutherland show in London since 1982. This exhibition is distinctive in offering a selective interpretation of the artist, rather than the usual career retrospective. The emphasis is on the period from the mid 1930s, when Sutherland established his identity as a modern painter, to around 1950, when his influence began to wane. We also concentrate in depth on two particular strands of his imagery, namely the landscapes derived mainly from visits to Pembrokeshire and the South of France, before and after the Second World War respectively; and the scenes of devastation and production produced for the War Artists scheme run by his great friend Kenneth Clark. There are small-scale sections on the early 1920s etchings, which introduced certain fundamentals of his art, and on the initial emergence of his portraiture with the creation of Somerset Maugham in 1949. Moreover, to help place Sutherland art-historically and to bring out certain essential features of his own art, the exhibition includes a few carefully selected works by other artists, past and present, in whom he took an interest (such as Blake, Palmer, Nash, and Masson).
Our aim, in sum, is to reassemble the types of work that gave rise to a widespread consensus, amongst fellow artists as well as critics and collectors, that Sutherland was the most exciting and compelling voice in contemporary British painting. The dramatic colour and lighting, and the metamorphosis of observed form in his pictures, both the landscapes and the wartime images of bombed buildings, tin mines and factory interiors, produced an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding that, in such traumatic times, struck a powerful emotional chord.
The exhibition comprises around 70 oils and works on papers, drawn from public collections throughout the United Kingdom such as the Tate, who are lending generously from their extensive Sutherland holdings, the British Council, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, as well as from private collections. The curator is Martin Hammer, Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh, and author of a book on Bacon and Sutherland that will appear at the time of the exhibition (Yale University Press). The show will travel in the autumn to the Djanogly Gallery in Nottingham.