Graham Sutherland OM

A Foundry: Hot Metal has been Poured into a Mould and Inflammable Gas is Rising


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Not on display

Graham Sutherland OM 1903–1980
Crayon and gouache on paper
Support: 918 × 1092 mm
frame (T/F Frame): 1318 × 1495 × 160 mm
frame: 1145 × 1317 × 44 mm
Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

Display caption

Between 1940 and 1945, Sutherland was an Official War Artist. He was almost continually employed on specific projects including, for example, recording bomb damage in London, and depicting tin mines in Cornwall and steel works in Cardiff and Swansea. This picture is one of several works made at the Guest, Keen and Baldwin steel works in Cardiff. Since the emergence of the modern factory system in the late eighteenth century, artists had often associated the fiery and awesome industrial landscape with more traditional visions of hell.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Graham Sutherland 1903-80

A Foundry: Hot Metal has been Poured into a Mould and Inflammable Gas is Rising 1941-2


Gouache, watercolour, wax crayon and pen and ink on paper mounted on board
914 x 1092 (36 x 43)

Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

?National War Pictures, National Gallery, London, 1942-5 (changing display, no cat.)
National War Pictures, Royal Academy, London, Oct.-Nov. 1945 (906)
Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery, British Council tour, 1946-7 (as A Foundry), Palais des beaux-arts, Brussels, Jan.-Feb. 1946 (111), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, March (111), Raadhushallen, Copenhagen, April-May (111), Musée de Jeu de Paume, Paris, June-July (111), Musée des beaux arts, Berne, Aug. (113), Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, Vienna, Sept. (114), Narodni Galerie, Prague, Oct.-Nov. (114), Muzeum Narodne, Warsaw, Nov.-Dec. (114), Galleria d’arte moderna, Rome, Jan.-Feb. 1947 (114)
Continental Exhibition: Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery Exhibited Under the Auspices of the British Council, Tate Gallery, London, May-Sept.1947 (no number, as A Foundry)
Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery, Arts Council tour, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct.1947, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, Oct.-Nov., Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Nov.-Dec., Birkenhead, Williamson Art Gallery, Jan.1948, Bristol City Art Gallery, Jan.-Feb. 1948, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth, Feb.-March, Brighton Art Gallery and Museum, March-April, Plymouth City Art Gallery, April-May, Castle Museum, Nottingham, May-June, Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery, June-July, Aberdeen Art Gallery, July-Aug., Salford Art Gallery and Museum, Aug.-Sept. (70, as A Foundry)
Graham Sutherland, Tate Gallery, London, May-July 1982 (97, repr.)
Graham Sutherland, Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt, Aug.-Sept. 1982 (126, repr. p.116)

Cecil Beaton, War Pictures by British Artists, Second series, No.2: Production, London 1943, p.6, repr. pl.16 (as Manufacturing Bombs)
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, pp.705-6

Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London, 1961, pl.43f (as Manufacturing Bombs)

Despite the detail of this work’s current title, Manufacturing Bombs, under which it was first received by the War Artists Advisory Committee,[1] is more instructive of the scene depicted and of the painting’s function. The longer title was, however, ascribed at an early stage as the WAAC records listed it as LD1768 A Foundry: Hot Metal has been Poured into a Mould and Inflammable Gas is Rising in March 1942, two months after its arrival.[2] It was one of seven pictures submitted by Sutherland to the WAAC on 21 January 1942 all of which showed different scenes at the Guest, Keen and Balwin steel works near Cardiff. Sutherland had spent several weeks there between September and October 1941 before working up the studies in his Kent studio.

On 15 December the artist’s wife Kathleen told the secretary of the WAAC, E.M. O’Rourke Dickey, that the artist had been ready to deliver four large paintings and some smaller ones but had been advised by Sir Kenneth Clark, WAAC chairman, to keep them until the New Year as there were ‘one or two alterations to be made to two of them’.[3] As it is not possible to identify positively which two were worked on during January 1942, all seven may be dated 1941-2. In the process of translating his sketches into the final paintings, Sutherland produced several intermediary versions of the same composition. There are four such pieces which, though less finished, show a similar scene to this work[4] though two have considerably more figures in the background. Douglas Cooper’s monograph on the artist also included a pen and ink study of the parts of moulds in the lower right hand section of the final painting.[5]

Though the artist does not seem to have wanted to show a coherent progression, there are depictions of various stages in each of the three main processes of the steel works: the refinement of iron from iron ore, the production of steel and the forging of that steel into armaments. The progression from natural resources to weapons might be seen to bear a symbolism that would have suited the WAAC’s propaganda purposes. The Tate Gallery holds three pictures from this first batch of paintings of steel works, one from each process: Tapping a Blast Furnace (Tate Gallery N05740) shows the iron being tapped and the slag removed; in Feeding a Steel Furnace (Tate Gallery N05738) we see scrap steel being added to the furnace and in A Foundry: Hot Metal has been Poured... molten steel is cast in moulds.

Unlike the other two, but in common with the majority of Sutherland’s war paintings, this piece is a work on paper. The multi-media technique and the limitation of the palette to black, grey and yellow is comparable to a number of his Blitz paintings, such as Devastation 1941: An East End Street (Tate Gallery N05736). The media were applied in a complex layering to create the highly modulated surface quality for which Sutherland became renowned. The main ground seems to have been a grey watercolour wash, while the yellow of the flames is a dry gouache. Wax crayon was applied in several places - notably in the white area in the centre - and the washes have been thrown off by it to create a mottled effect. Much of the ink drawing was worked over the paint and it has come off where it went over the yellow. Some wrinkling in the thin white paper originated from its mounting on Essex Board, which is stamped on the back along the bottom edge; the board is concave, the centre being recessed by approximately 1/4 inch. There are several tears, cuts and patches in the paper which seem to have existed prior to completion.[6] Towards the bottom right hand corner, the section of moulds on table tops and its immediate surroundings are painted on a large patch. It is clear that this was placed over existing painting and had, itself, been painted before being stuck down. This rather drastic method for adjusting a passage with which he was unhappy was also used by the artist in his Miner Probing a Drill Hole (Tate Gallery N05741). The existence of a study of this particular detail might suggest that it was especially problematic for the artist and the adjustment introduces the possibility that the painting is a composite rather than the depiction of an actual scene.

The style of A Foundry: Hot Metal has been Poured... reflects Sutherland’s approach to the steel works and his receptiveness to earlier and contemporary art. In 1964 he recalled that he had become ‘fascinated by the primitiveness of heavy engineering shops with their vast floors. In a way they are cathedrals ... And yet the rite - a word I use carefully - being performed when men are making steel, is extraordinary; and how primitive it all really is in spite of our scientific age’.[7] The solemnity of his depiction of the foundry, with its static forms and elegant flames rising bright in the gloom, seems designed to convey this sense of quasi-religious wonder. His comparison of steel production to a primitive ritual locates modern industry in an atavistic tradition and conjures up images of alchemy. Such an association is further suggested by the two diminutive figures in the background who might be performing some ancient rite of fire. The artist’s negation of modern technology, like the evasive extended title given the painting, might be seen as an attempt to minimise the threat posed by the product of the depicted activity - bombs - while fulfilling the propagandists’ need to stress Britain’s continuing productivity.

A similarly reassuring message had been conveyed by Henry Moore’s Sheleter Drawings which, by 1942, were already established as major works of modern British art. Though Sutherland’s threatened bodies are frequently compared with William Blake’s figures, the two here, like the receding tunnel-like space on the right, reveal the influence of Moore’s images. Indeed, the style shared by Moore, Sutherland and John Piper in their WAAC work might be thought to have become one of the leading visual languages in wartime Britain. Its all-over textured surface represented a successful compromise of modernism and representation and suited the scenes of destruction and industry to which they were applied whilst, at the same time, suggesting a reassuring organicism.

In common with all WAAC commissioned works, this painting was included in the continually expanding display of War Pictures at the National Gallery soon after its completion. Many works were also shown in some of the numerous exhibitions that toured Britain during the war, but there are almost no catalogues to confirm whether this piece was included. Since the war, many of the WAAC works held by the Tate Gallery have been sent on extended loans and this work was shown at Auckland City Art Gallery in New Zealand from April 1953 to March 1957.

Chris Stephens
November 1998

[1] Minutes of 70th the War Artists Advisory Committee meeting, 21 Jan. 1942, Imperial War Museum GP/72/E
[2] List of works received by War Artists Advisory Committee between 1 Dec. 1941 and 1 March 1942, Imperial War Museum GP/72/F
[3] Kathleen Sutherland, letter to E.M. O’R. Dickey, 15 Dec. 1941, Imperial War Museum GP/55/57/70
[4] Moulds, Foundry at Cardiff, 1942, 155 x 195 mm, private collection, repr. Roberto Tassi, Graham Sutherland: The Wartime Drawings, Milan 1979, trans. Julian Andrews, London 1980, p.116, pl.107; Moulds, Iron Foundry, 1942, 150 x 200 mm, private collection, repr. ibid., p.117, pl.108 (col.); Moulds, Foundry at Cardiff, 1942, 157 x 177 mm, private collection, repr. ibid., p.118, pl.109; Moulds, Foundry at Cardiff, 1942, 155 x 195 mm, private collection, repr. ibid., p.119, pl.110
[5] Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London 1961, pl.43a
[6] Tate Gallery conservation file
[7] ‘Graham Sutherland’ in Noel Barber, Conversations with Painters, London 1964, p.48

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