Graham Sutherland show at Modern Art Oxford, UK

Welsh Landscape
'Welsh Landscape', 1936, part of a collection of works by Graham Sutherland, on show at Modern Art Oxford Private Collection, London
(Image credit: Graham Sutherland)

He painted powerful scenes of bombed-out Swansea, Cardiff and East London, and gritty landscapes of quarries, mines and foundries as his role as official WWII artist, but today the late Graham Sutherland is still in the shadows of his friend and contemporary Francis Bacon. A show at Modern Art Oxford is hoping to change all this. Featuring more than 80 of Sutherland's landscapes of Pembrokeshire from the 1930s and the 1970s, the show is curated by 2011 Turner Prize nominee George Shaw.

It's a neat fit, as Shaw, who paints his home town of Coventry, is also a master of the bleak British landscape. Beyond that though, the idea came about 'after a really drunken night with the gallery director Michael Stanley two years ago,' says Shaw, who first came across Sutherland's 1950s tapestry 'Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph', in Coventry Cathedral as a boy. For him, Sutherland's Wales - an ancient place of setting suns, sacred stones, prehistoric figures and foreboding rock formations, and presented in the show in various phases of abstraction - 'sums up the artist's vision'.

Sutherland graduated from Goldsmiths School of Art with a degree in engraving and etching in 1925, and moved to Pembrokeshire in 1930 before becoming a war artist and travelling the UK to document its troubles. Surreal touches - Cezanne-like mountains, Monet-esque haystacks and Picasso-style symbols - appear in his work, and in 1949 Sutherland moved to the South of France where he spent 20 years painting Mediterranean landscapes.

'For me, Pembrokeshire is him; this is his work,' says Shaw, strolling enthusiastically through the gallery's four rooms, in which sketches and works-in-progress are also on show. 'I'm not that interested in finished things, in artists' grand gestures. Sutherland's studies are so full of life. He would get out of his Bentley, do a very quick sketch and take it - all in his mind - back to the studio.'

In contrast to his life of isolation in Wales, Sutherland was also a society man; in 1949, he painted Somerset Maugham, Lord Beaverbrook and Winston Churchill. So outré was the latter's portrait that it was burned by the family. 'In this respect, he was the Damien Hirst of his day,' says Shaw. 'His work was cutting edge and shocking to the point where it was destroyed. Yet people have never heard of him.'

Sutherland died in 1980 and many of the works in the show haven't seen the light of day since the 1960s. Adds Shaw: 'He's just not on the radar, yet he is totally contemporary. His paintings of war-torn east London could be Afghanistan today.'

Mountain Landscape

'Mountain Landscape', 1936
National Museum Wales

(Image credit: Courtesy of Amgueddfa Cymru)

Sun Setting Between Hills

'Sun Setting Between Hills', 1937

Private Collection

(Image credit: press)

Blasted Oak

Study for 'Blasted Oak', 1937

National Museum Wales

(Image credit: Courtesy of Amgueddfa Cymru)

Gypsy Tent

'Gypsy Tent', 1939

National Museum Wales

(Image credit: Courtesy of Amgueddfa Cymru)

Tree Forms in Estuary

'Tree Forms in Estuary', 1939

Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council

(Image credit: Courtesy of Doncaster Museum Service)

Trees Under Mynedd Pen Cyrm

'Trees Under Mynedd Pen Cyrm', 1939

Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford

(Image credit: press)

The Wanderer

'The Wanderer', 1940

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum)

Dark Hill

'Dark Hill - Landscape with Hedges and Fields', 1940

(Image credit: Courtesy of Swindon Museum & Art Gallery)

Devastation or The City

'Devastation or The City: Twisted Girders', 1941

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Landscape Study of Cairns

'Landscape Study of Cairns', 1944

(Kearley Bequest through the Art Fund, 1989)

(Image credit: Courtesy of Pallant House Gallery)

Twisted Tree Form

'Twisted Tree Form', 1944

(Image credit: Courtesy of Laing Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

The Setting Sun

'The Setting Sun', 1944

(Image credit: Courtesy of The British Council Collection)


'Thorns', 1945

(Image credit: Courtesy of The British Council Collection)

Thorn Head

'Thorn Head', 1945

(Bequeathed by Paul Clark, 2010)

(Image credit: Courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, Oxford )

Two Trees

'Two Trees', 1947

(Image credit: Courtesy of Pallant House Gallery)

Road Mounting between Hedges

'Road Mounting between Hedges: Sunrise', 1949

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society in 1955, Kirklees Collection

(Image credit: press)


'Landscape', 1969

(Image credit: Courtesy of Harry Moore-Gwyn (Moore-Gwyn Fine Art))


30 Pembroke Street
Oxford OX1 1BP


Emma O'Kelly is a contributing editor at Wallpaper*. She joined the magazine on issue 4 as news editor and since since then has worked in full and part time roles across many editorial departments. She is a freelance journalist based in London and works for a range of titles from Condé Nast Traveller to The Telegraph. She is currently working on a book about Scandinavian sauna culture and is renovating a mid century house in the Italian Lakes.