Lot 30
  • 30

Graham Sutherland, O.M.

25,000 - 35,000 GBP
87,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Graham Sutherland, O.M.
  • Thorn Bush
  • crayon, charcoal, watercolour, ink and gouache 
  • 38 by 23cm.; 15 by 9in.
  • Executed circa 1947-48.


The Redfern Gallery, London, where acquired by Dr Sidney Charles Lewsen in 1955
Sale, Sotheby's London, 8th March 1995, lot 103, where acquired by David Bowie

Catalogue Note

After working as an Official War Artist in the Second World War, Graham Sutherland was approached by the Rev. Walter Hussey to create a work for the newly built church of St. Matthew in Northampton. He had been recommended by Henry Moore whose Northampton Madonna and Child had been unveiled in February 1944. Hussey’s commission was on the theme of The Agony in the Garden, and Sutherland in turn proposed the Crucifixion as a subject that he had been toying with for some time.

Sutherland was close to the young and charismatic artist who took the London art scene by storm in the 1940s, Francis Bacon, and the two artists retained a lasting preoccupation with figures which show just the beginnings of a twisting distortion. Both fully appreciated the importance of a visible brutality in painting and conceived that art could no longer rest on its laurels, and instead should challenge and tackle the viewer head on.

After the war, Sutherland left behind the softly curling branches of his earlier compositions – compositions which, inspired by William Blake, had brought him fame and recognition in London as a Neo-Romanticist. He replaced them with a tortured brutality that aligned himself with contemporaries such as Bacon and Picasso (whom he had met at Vallauris in 1947). As an artist who explored the inner psyche, adapting and manipulating the subject before him to expand on broader inner questions, he exposed himself to an international audience: his first one man show outside of Britain was held in 1946 at the Buchholz Gallery in New York. His work became bolder and more confident in its execution, as demonstrated by the defined black brushstrokes outlining the form in the present work which is matched with a heightened tonality and brighter palette.

While the Northampton painting took two and a half years to complete, it provided Sutherland with the opportunity to develop one of the most important and lasting motifs of his career: that of the thorn bush. As the artist recalled in 1951:

‘I went into the country. For the first time I started to notice thorn bushes, and the structure of thorns as they pierced the air. I made some drawings, and as I made them, a curious change developed. As the thorns rearranged themselves, they became, whilst still retaining their own pricking, space-encompassing life, something else – a kind of ‘stand-in’ for a Crucifixion and a crucified head … The thorns sprang from the idea of potential cruelty’ (the Artist, quoted in Graham Sutherland, (exh. cat.), Tate, London, 1982, p.108).