Graham Sutherland OM 1. Orpheus 1978–9

Artwork details

Artist
Date 1978–9
Medium Etching and aquatint on paper
Dimensions Image: 216 x 234 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 1985
Reference
P77086
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Catalogue entry

This catalogue entry discusses a group of works; details of the individual work are given at the end of the introductory text.


Graham Sutherland, O.M. 1903-1980

P77085 - P77102 Apollinaire. Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée 1978-9

Portfolio of 18 etchings with aquatint, various sizes, on Magnani paper, various sizes; printed by Eleonora and Valter Rossi at 2RC Editrice, Rome and co-published by Marlborough Fine Art and 2RC Editrice, Milan in an edition of 16 hors commerce copies aside from the edition de tête of 21 and standard edition of 75
Each inscribed ‘HC 9/16' below image b.l. and ‘Sutherland.' below image b.r.; stamped with ‘A' monogram designed by Sutherland and printer's stamp b.l.
Purchased from B. Alexander (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Lit: Graham Sutherland, Giulio Carlo Argan, Maria Luisa Belleli, Sutherland, Apollinaire, Le Bestiaire, ou Cortège d’Orphée, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art and 2RC Editrice, 1979; John Hayes, The Art of Graham Sutherland, 1980, pp.38 and 170; Roger Berthoud, Graham Sutherland, A Biography, 1982, pp.294 and 303; Graham Sutherland, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, 1982, pp.167-8; Graham Sutherland, exh. cat., Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt 1982, pp.253-4; Marzio Pinottini, Sergio Zoppi, ‘Sutherland and Apollinaire' trans. Paul Nicholls, in Bestiari di Graham Sutherland, exh. cat., Tour Fromage, Aosta, 1985, pp.17-20 and 34-40

‘Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée' was the last set of prints which Sutherland made before his death in February 1980. Sutherland began gouache studies in the summer of 1978 and made the plates for the prints, which are in colour, at his house in Menton from December 1978 to November 1979. They were exhibited, together with a selection of the gouache studies, at Marlborough Fine Art, London and 2RC Editrice, Milan between November and December 1979.

‘Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée' is the last of three sets of prints which Sutherland executed on the theme of Bestiaries. The other two are ‘A Bestiary and Some Correspondences', a set of twenty six colour lithographs made between 1965 and 1968 (repr. Pinottini and Zoppi 1985, pp.53-79, in col.), and ‘The Bees' (repr. Roberto Tassi, Graham Sutherland, Complete Graphic Work, 1978, nos 179-92), a set of fourteen aquatints which followed in 1976-7. Sutherland worked on the latter, for the first time, with the printers Valter and Eleanora Rossi and Tassi's catalogue includes photographs of Sutherland preparing the plates for the prints and also an account, by the Rossis, of their technique.

Sutherland's interest in Bestiaries dates from the preparatory research he did for the tapestry he designed for Coventry Cathedral (1952-62) in which the Evangelists are represented as beasts. Deriving originally from the Greek Physiologus, the Medieval Latin Bestiary originated in England in the mid-twelfth century. Essentially it comprised a collection of stories, each of which was based on a description of an animal, plant or stone in order to present a Christian allegory for moral and religious instruction and admonition. Usually there were around a hundred stories which normally, though not necessarily, were accompanied by illustrations. Both as an artist, in whose work symbolism and allegory occupy a central place, and as a Catholic, Sutherland was thus attracted to the Bestiary as a means of expressing what Marzio Pinottini describes as ‘multiple significance [:] the necessary counterpart of the ‘One beyond Being.' (Pinottini and Zoppi 1985, pp.18-19). Pinottini regards Sutherland's art in general as ‘[manifesting] a vision of the metamorphic and metamorphosing ambiguity of nature, bristling with thorns and prickles as it so often is, as an emblem of daily life and of our state of natura lapsa after the fate brought about by original sin' (ibid., p.18). He interprets the Bestiaries, in particular, as representing ‘the fabric of the transient human frailty to which the metamorphic aggressiveness of the animal and vegetable world of his invention alludes' (ibid., p.20).

The title of the Tate's portfolio derives from ‘Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée', a book of poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, published in 1911. Apollinaire's text consists of thirty sections, the titles of which are as follows (italics are the compiler's, see below): ‘Orpheus', ‘The Tortoise', ‘The Horse', ‘The Goat of Tibet', ‘The Snake', ‘The Cat', ‘The Lion', ‘The Buck Hare', ‘The Rabbit', ‘The Dromedary', ‘The Mouse', ‘The Elephant', ‘Orpheus', ‘The Caterpillar', ‘The Fly', ‘The Flea', ‘The Grasshopper', ‘Orpheus', ‘The Dolphin', ‘The Octopus', ‘The Jellyfish', ‘The Crayfish', ‘The Carp', ‘Orpheus', ‘The Sirens', ‘The Dove', ‘The Peacock', ‘The Owl', ‘Ibis' and ‘The Ox'. Of these, Sutherland chose to illustrate sixteen (shown in italics) and also added a further subject, ‘The Pyre', which is not in Apollinaire's text. These, together with the illustration for the frontispiece make a total of eighteen aquatints. This strategy was explained by Sutherland in the following way: ‘I have not attempted to accompany all the poems, some of which, for various reasons, I could make nothing of at all. And I have added one or two images that have no direct reference to the poems, but which refer, perhaps to the difficulties of life and living' (Marlborough Fine Art 1979, [p.5]). The complete text, with translations into English and Italian, is published in the Marlborough Fine Art and 2RC Editrice catalogue of 1979, which reproduces studies by Sutherland of some of the animals for which he did not make prints.

The Apollinaire illustrations were proposed to Sutherland by Marzio Pinottini in the summer of 1976 (letter dated 14 June 1988 from Paul Nicholls, who witnessed the conversation). Pinottini had already discussed the idea with Professor Maria Luisa Belleli, who was then preparing a translation of the poems into Italian. Sutherland did not take up the idea immediately and the Italian translation was published independently (it was included in the Italian edition of the 1979 catalogue). Sutherland again worked in collaboration with the Rossis on the printing of the set: he made the studies and etched the plates at his studio in Menton in the South of France and the printing took place in Rome.

The prints were sold in a large portfolio which included, in addition to the title page, an introduction by Giulio Carlo Argan, dated Rome, September 1979, printed on a full size sheet. This text is also included in the booklet published in two versions, in English and Italian, by Marlborough Fine Art and 2RC Editrice in 1979. The total size of the edition, listed in the back of the booklet, was 112 copies, consisting of 16 hors commerce copies, one of which is the Tate Gallery's, 21 edition de tête copies (the same, but numbered in Roman numerals) and 75 standard edition copies, which only have 15 aquatints.


P77086 1. Orpheus

Etching and aquatint 216 x 234 (8 1/2 x 9 1/4) on paper 711 x 537 (28 x 21 1/8); plate-mark 480 x 385 (18 7/8 x 15 1/8); watermark of cross above m

Image printed in two colours: green and black; an imaginary portrait head which represents the Orpheus-poet whose fame derives from Greek myth. He is first mentioned in literature by Aeschylus and Euripides who describe how his songs attracted trees, wild beasts and even stones and how he was able to charm whomsoever he desired. Orpheus charming the beasts is also a recurrent theme in Roman art. There is a strong affinity between this image and that of the caged lion (see P77088) suggesting that the artist, like the beast, is imprisoned. The head is drawn entirely in line, echoing the opening phrase of Apollinaire's stanza: ‘Admirez le pouvoir insigne et la noblesse de la ligne' [‘admire the remarkable power and the nobility of line'].

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.457-9

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