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Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art

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London

Graham Sutherland, O.M.
1903-1980
PICTON
titled and dated 1972 on the reverse
oil on canvas
101.5 by 97.5cm.; 40 by 38½in.
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Provenance

Marlborough Fine Art, London, where acquired by the previous owner
Sale, Christie's London, 10th June 2005, lot 101
Fine Art Society, London, where acquired by the present owner, 17th August 2007

Exhibited

Zurich, Marlborough Galerie AG, Sutherland: Neue Werke, 1972-3, cat. no.15, illustrated p.42, with tour to Marlborough Fine Art, London.

Literature

Roberto Sanesi, Graham Sutherland, Centro d'Arte, Zarathustra, 1979, illustrated pl.90 (where dated 1971).

Catalogue Note

When Sutherland revisited Pembrokeshire in 1967, it was the first time in over twenty years that he had found himself in the landscape that had inspired his early career. The trip was connected to a film on his work that was being made by the Italian director Pierpaolo Ruggerini, and his re-engagement with the place was immediate and powerful. So intense was this connection that Sutherland found himself bitterly regretting the time he had been away; ‘…I thought I had exhausted what the countryside had to offer both as a “vocabulary” & as inspiration. I was sadly mistaken…’ (The Artist, letter of 17th March 1976, quoted in Sutherland in Wales, Alistair McAlpine, London, 1976, p.6).

Not only the forms and the colours of the landscape, but the very atmosphere of the place appealed once more to Sutherland, and he explored the subject with fresh eyes but a rather different technique from his earlier paintings. The oils of the late 1930s and 1940s were often rather densely worked, but in works such as Picton the paint is often thinly applied, allowing the colours to bounce back off the white of the primed canvas and imbuing the whole with a glowing and poetic light. Amidst a dark background, the pale green takes on a symbolic and otherworldly aspect, highlighted with strokes of rich purple pigment.

In Pembrokeshire, Sutherland was particularly drawn to the small estuaries at Sandy Haven and Picton in the southern part of the county. The present work is most likely related to a number of works which take inspiration from an oak tree found along the bank of the estuary at Picton, where the instability of the banks, made up of soft shale and eroded by the tide, had caused the trees to grow into a variety of gnarled and contorted shapes in order to survive. In the present work,  knotted roots and branches form the central motif, twisting into anthropomorphic shapes. Form over River from 1971-2, in the collection of the Tate, London, is most probably also inspired by this same tree.

Writing of the tree forms which inspired paintings such as the present work, Sutherland wrote: ‘the trees are eroded by the tide and wind and they are small oaks, really; I suppose you would call them dwarf oaks. They have the most extraordinarily beautiful, varied and rich shapes which detach them from their proper connotation as trees. One does not think of them so much as trees, more as figures; they have the same urgency that certain movements of figures can have in action’ (the Artist, The Listener, XCVIII, 1997, p.231, quoted in Ronald Alley, Graham Sutherland, Tate Gallery Publications, London, 1982, p.157).

Modern & Post-War British Art

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London