Illustrated companion

Graham Sutherland began his career in the 1920s as an etcher and engraver of English landscape scenes in the imaginative, Romantic tradition of Samuel Palmer. When he began to paint, about 1930, he retained this fundamentally imaginative approach, combined with a considerable degree of abstraction. A crucial influence on his development as a painter was his discovery in 1934 of the landscape of Dyfed (Pembrokeshire) in West Wales, whose particular topography and atmosphere struck a strong chord in him: 'I felt as much a part of the earth as my features were part of me. I did not feel that my imagination was in conflict with the real, but that reality was a ... form of imagination ... It was in this country that I began to learn painting'. He explains that he discovered he could not express his feelings for it simply by painting what he saw, but had to let his impressions work in his mind and imagination until he could produce what he referred to as a 'paraphrase' - a condensed essence of a particular aspect of the landscape: 'It seemed impossible here for me to sit down and make finished paintings "from nature" ... The spaces and concentrations of this clearly constructed land were stuff for storing in the mind ...' Sutherland has also described how, as he soaked himself in it, this countryside took on a metamorphic quality in which different elements became part of a unified vision: 'I would lie on the warm shore until my eye, becoming riveted to some sea-eroded rocks, would notice that they were precisely reproducing, in miniature, the forms of the inland hills.' In Sutherland's paintings forms not only metamorphose into each other but take on powerfully expressive shapes and colours. 'Black Landscape' was probably inspired by the twin mountains of Clegyr-Boia which Sutherland has described in lyrical detail and which were clearly a key element for him in the landscape around St Davids: 'One approaches across a wide plain from the north, its emptiness relieved by the interlocking of tightly-packed strips of field and their bounding walls of turf-covered rocks. One soon notices ... what appear to be two mountains. As one approaches closer one sees that these masses of rock scarcely attain a height of more than seven hundred feet. But so classically perfect is their form, and so majestic is their command of the smoothly-rising ground below, that the mind ... holds their essential mountainous significance. A rocky path leads round the slopes of the nearer mountain, where, to the west, the escarpment precipitates itself to a rock-strewn strip of marsh ...' Much of this can be recognised even in the abstracted forms of 'Black Landscape'. Later he speaks of 'the solemn moment of sunset when he feels 'the enveloping quality of the earth which can create, as it does here, a mysterious space limit, - a womb-like enclosure ...' This seems to give a strong clue to the mood of 'Black Landscape' with its marvellous pink light of the setting sun coming from the west to cast deep, mysterious black shadows over the hillsides. The rounded form of the furthest mountain is echoed in the simply defined perimeter of the plain to create 'a womb-like enclosure.'

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.184