FROM DESTRUCTION TO ABSTRACTION BRITISH ART IN THE 1940S AND 1950S

THORN TREES

THORN TREES

1945 Graham Sutherland (1903 − 1980)

A Neo-Romantic inspired by the pastoral subjects of Samuel Palmer, Graham Sutherland’s haunting paintings express a revul¬sion at the machine age and the oppressive forces of industriali¬sation, by tackling the rugged, difficult beauty of the countryside. For much of the 1930s he would attempt to convey the intellectual and emo¬tional essence of the Pembrokeshire landscape by means of dramatic shifts in light, unnaturalistic colouring and animal skulls. It is a bleak, primordial world in which man and nature are at odds with one another.

Sutherland had originally intended to study as a railway engi¬neer, and perhaps it was his aborted education in this field that led him to look with such a distempered eye on the march of progress. His real development as a painter dates from 1935, when he visited Pembrokeshire in the Welsh border country, and began a series of paintings based on landscape and natural forms. In ‘moments of vision’, he felt that things were taking on a life of their own, and undergoing a metamorphosis from a static, fixed shape, to an undefined, indetermi¬nate form. In his own words, he was fascinated by ‘the whole problem of the tensions produced by the power of growth’. In 1940, he was employed by the War Artists Advisory Committee, established by the art historian Kenneth Clark. The aim was to record Britain at war, from bomb damage in the East End of London to tin mining in Cornwall and steel works in Cardiff. Discouraged from painting dead bodies, Sutherland would paint the skeletal remains of burnt-out buildings as a metaphor for human damage. Thorn Trees was made at the end of the war and Sutherland has chosen a palette of intense, cold colours to reinforce the impression of a cruel and unapprehending world. It is one of the of the final paintings he executed before fleeing the sulphur¬ous realities of post-war Britain for the sunny environs of the South of France. The work was made after Canon Walter Hussey commis¬sioned the artist to paint an altarpiece for his church in Northampton. Sutherland chose to paint the Crucifixion, and Thorn Treeswas one of a number of paintings made shortly afterwards that focused on the crown of thorns pressed onto Christ’s head by the soldiers. The picture trans¬forms the trees into deadly weapons; the thorns become daggers and their razor-sharp edges glint like steel. Like a phoenix from the fire, this vicious aberration grows out of the barren soil, the mutant response to an evil world.

 

  • Accession Number P74
  • Dimensions 127 X 101.5 CM
  • Media OIL ON CANVAS

Glossary (2)

  • Landscape

    Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.

  • Painting

    Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.

Theme

Past exhibitions

OUT OF BRITAIN

  • 2013
    • Romania, Bucharest, National Museum Of Art
  • 2012
    • Oman, Muscat, Bait Al Zubair Museum
    • Kuwait, Kuwait City, Contemporary Art Platform
    • Saudi Arabia, Al Kohbar, Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science & Technology Center
    • Saudi Arabia, Jeddah, Athr Gallery
    • Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Riyadh National Museum

TREASURE ISLAND: BRITISH ART FROM HOLBEIN TO HOCKNEY

  • 2012
    • Spain, Madrid, Fundacion Juan March

BRITISH BUSINESS EMBASSY

  • 2012
    • UK, London, Lancaster House

LET US FACE THE FUTURE: ART BRITÀNIC 1945-1968

  • 2010
    • Spain, Barcelona, Fundacio Joan Miro

PASSPORTS. IN VIAGGIO CON L'ARTE

  • 2009
    • Italy, Milan, Padglione D'arte Contemporanea

PASSPORTS: GREAT EARLY BUYS FROM THE BRITISH COUNCIL COLLECTION

  • 2009
    • UK, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND

  • 2009
    • UK, Paddock Wood, Mascalls Gallery

FROM DESTRUCTION TO ABSTRACTION BRITISH ART IN THE 1940S AND 1950S

  • 2008
    • Syria, Damascus, University Of Damascus

BRITISH VISION OBSERVATION AND IMAGINATION IN BRITISH ART 1750-1950

  • 2007
    • Belgium, Ghent, Museum Voor Schone Kunsten

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND LANDSCAPES, WAR SCENES, PORTRAITS 1924-1950

  • 2005
    • UK, Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery
  • 2003
    • UK, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery

BLAST TO FREEZE: BRITISCHE KUNST IM 20. JAHRHUNDERT

  • 2003
    • France, Toulouse, Les Abattoirs
  • 2002
    • Germany, Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum

SUTHERLAND UNE RETROSPECTIVE

  • 1998
    • France, Antibes, Picasso Museum

REALITES NOIRES

  • 1994
    • France, St Etienne, Musee D'art Moderne

LOAN LOAN TO MUSEE D'ART ET D'HISTOIRE

  • 1994
    • Luxembourg, Luxembourg

HERBERT READ A BRITISH VISION OF WORLD ART

  • 1993
    • UK, Leeds, Leeds City Art Gallery

FOR A WIDER WORLD

  • 1991
    • Argentina, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes
    • Bulgaria, Sofia, Cyril Methodius Foundation
    • Belgium, Luxembourg, Musee National D'histoire Et D'art
  • 1990
    • Ussr, Kiev, Ukrainian Museum Of Fine Art

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND

  • 1982
    • UK, London, Tate Gallery

JUBILEE EXHIBITION

  • 1980
    • Norway, Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus

SIX PAINTINGS FROM THE BRITISH COUNCIL COLLECTION

  • 1977
    • Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Cultural Centre
    • New Zealand, New Plymouth, New Plymouth Art Gallery
    • New Zealand, Auckland, Aukland City Art Gallery
  • 1976
    • India, Bombay, National Centre For The Performing Arts
    • India, New Delhi, National Gallery Of Modern Art

DECADE 40'S

  • 1973
    • Scotland, Aberdeen, Aberdeen Art Gallery And Museum
    • UK, Bradford, Bradford City Art Gallery
    • UK, Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery
    • UK, Durham, DLI Museum & Art Centre
    • UK, Carlisle, Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery
  • 1972
    • UK, Southampton, Southampton City Art Gallery
    • UK, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery

IX BIENNALE INTERNATIONALE D'ART

  • 1972
    • France, Menton, Palais De L'europe

EXPO '70

  • 1970
    • Japan, Tokyo, Tokyo

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND

  • 1967
    • Germany, Munich, Haus Der Kunst

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND

  • 1966
    • Switzerland, Basel, Kunsthalle
  • 1965
    • Italy, Galleria Civica D'arte Moderno

SOME ASPECTS OF CONTEMPORARY BRITISH PAINTING

  • 1964
    • Denmark, Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art
    • Canada, Edmonton Art Gallery
    • Canada, Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina
    • Canada, Winnipeg Art Gallery
    • Canada, National Gallery Of Canada
    • Canada, Montreal Museum Of Fine Arts
    • UK, London, Public Library
  • 1963
    • Canada, Art Gallery Of Ontario
    • Iceland, Reykjavik, National Museum

DEUX SIECLES DE PEINTURE BRITANNIQUE 1750-1950

  • 1964
    • Algeria, Algiers, Le Bardot Museum

ARTE BRITANICA NO SECULO XX

  • 1962
    • Portugal, Lisbon, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

BRITISH PAINTING 1720-1960

  • 1960
    • Russia, St Petersburg, The Hermitage
    • Russia, Moscow, Pushkin Museum Of Fine Arts

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND

  • 1959
    • Ireland, Belfast, Belfast Museum And Art Gallery

FOURTH INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION OF CONTEMPORARY ART

  • 1957
    • Japan, Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Gallery

BRITISH ART 1900-1955

  • 1956
    • Norway, Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus
    • Denmark, Copenhagen, Kunstforeningen

1955 SAO PAULO BIENAL

  • 1955
    • Brazil, Sao Paulo, Museu De Arte Moderna

GRAHAM SUTHERLAND DRAWINGS AND GOUACHES

  • 1954
    • Germany, Berlin, Haus Am Waldsee
    • Germany, Mannheim, Mannheim
    • Austria, Vienna, Akademie Der Bildenden Kunste
  • 1953
    • Austria, Innsbruck, Ferdinandeum
    • Switzerland, Zurich, Kunsthaus
    • Netherlands, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum

EUROPA KUNST 1953 1954

  • 1954
    • Denmark, Copenhagen, Copenhagen

XXVI VENICE BIENNALE

  • 1953
    • Switzerland, Zurich, Kunsthaus
    • Netherlands, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum
  • 1952
    • France, Paris, Musee D'art Moderne De La Ville De Paris
    • Italy, Venice, British Pavilion

CONTEMPORARY PAINTINGS

  • 1951
    • New Zealand, Auckland, Aukland City Art Gallery
    • New Zealand, Wellington, National Art Gallery
    • New Zealand, Dunedin, Dunedin Public Art Gallery
  • 1950
    • New Zealand, Christchurch, Robert Mcdougall Art Gallery

ELEVEN BRITISH ARTISTS

  • 1949
    • Australia, Art Gallery Of New South Wales
    • Australia, Launceston, Queen Victoria Art Gallery
    • Australia, Hobart, Tasmanian Museum And Art Gallery
    • Australia, Melbourne, Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building
    • Australia, Broken Hill, Broken Hill Art Gallery
    • Australia, Adelaide, Art Gallery Of South Australia
    • Australia, Perth, Art Gallery Of Western Australia
    • Australia, Brisbane, Queensland Art Gallery

LA JEUNE PEINTURE EN GRANDE BRETAGNE

  • 1948
    • France, Paris, British Council Office - Paris
  • 1947
    • Greece, Athens, British Institute

ENGELSK NUTIDSKONST

  • 1948
    • Sweden, Stockholm, Konstforening

EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE DE PEINTURES MODERNES

  • 1946
    • France, Paris, Musee National D'art Moderne
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