Graham Sutherland OM

Entrance to a Lane


Not on display

Graham Sutherland OM 1903–1980
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 614 × 507 mm
frame: 725 × 625 × 70 mm
Purchased 1953

Display caption

Though apparently abstract, the subject of this painting is a lane in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales. Sutherland visited the area regularly between 1934 and 1946. By presenting what he observed in simplified forms, Sutherland felt he captured the ‘intellectual and emotional’ essence of the landscape. He was attracted to the contrasting qualities of the setting, which he described as ‘darkness and light - of decay and life’. In 1939, with the Second World War looming, finding refuge in this natural setting may have had particular significance.

Gallery label, January 2019

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Catalogue entry

Graham Sutherland 1903-80

Entrance to a Lane 1939


Oil on canvas laid on hardboard 614 x 507 (24 3/16 x 20)

Inscribed in black paint ‘Sutherland 39’ t.l.

Purchased from Peter Watson (Cleve Fund) 1953

Purchased from the artist through the Leicester Galleries, London by Peter Watson 1940

First Exhibition of Paintings by Walter Goetz; Recent Paintings by Graham Sutherland, Leicester Galleries, London, May 1940 (30, as Approach to Woods)
Graham Sutherland 1924-51: A Retrospective Selection, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, April-May 1951 (29)
Sutherland, Wadsworth, New Aspects of British Sculpture, XXVI Venice Biennale, June-Oct. 1952 (British pavilion 4)
Graham Sutherland, British Council tour, Musée nationales d’art moderne, Paris, Nov.-Dec. 1952, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Jan. 1953, Kunsthaus, Zurich, March-April 1953 (4)
Paintings and Drawings by Graham Sutherland, Arts Council exhibition, Tate Gallery, London, May-Aug. 1953 (4, repr. pl.B in col.)
Sutherland, Galleria civica d’arte moderna, Turin, Oct.-Nov. 1965 (15, repr. p.61)
Graham Sutherland, Kunsthalle, Basel, Feb.-March 1966 (17)
Graham Sutherland, Haus der Kunst, Munich, March-May 1967, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, June-July, Haus am Waldsee, Berlin, Aug.-Sept., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Oct.-Nov. (6, repr.)
Henry Moore to Gilbert and George: Modern British Art from the Tate Gallery, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Sept.-Nov. 1973, as part of Europalia 73 Great Britain (53, repr. p.64)
The Thirties: British Art and Design Before the War, Hayward Gallery, London, Oct. 1979-Jan.1980 (6.81, repr. p.172)
Graham Sutherland, Tate Gallery, London, May-July 1982 (67, repr. p.83)
Graham Sutherland, Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt, Aug.-Sept. 1982 (67, repr. p.87)
Graham Sutherland: The Early Years 1921-40, Goldsmiths’ Gallery, Oct.-Dec. 1986 (100, repr. in col. p.18)

Robert Melville, Graham Sutherland, London 1950, [p.10]
Tate Gallery Report 1953-4, London 1954, p.25, repr.
John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, London 1958, p.110, repr. in col. p.111
Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London 1961, pp.19, 37-8, 49 n.5, pl.17
John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, London 1962, p.132, repr. in col. p.133
Dennis Farr, ‘Book Review II: The Work of Graham Sutherland by Douglas Cooper’, Apollo, vol.76, no.3, May 1962, p.228
William Gaunt, A Concise History of English Painting, London 1964, p.235, repr. pl.192 (col.)
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.710
William Feaver, ‘Rogue Males’, London Magazine, vol.12, no.2, June-July 1972, p.126
John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Wood to Hockney, London 1974, p.61
Andrew Causey, ‘Space and Time in British Land Art’, Studio International, vol.193, no.986, March-April 1977, p.126, repr.
Rosalind Thuiller, ‘Graham Sutherland in Pembrokeshire’, Arts Review, vol.29, no.13, 24 June 1977, p.417
Roberto Tassi, Graham Sutherland: Complete Graphic Work, London and Barcelona, 1978, p.24
John Hayes, The Art of Graham Sutherland, Oxford 1980, pp.21-2, 74, repr. p.75, no.36 (col.)
Bryan Robertson, ‘Graham Sutherland’, Spectator, 23 Feb. 1980, p.22 (as 1937)
Ronald Alley, Graham Sutherland, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1982, p.13
Roger Berthoud, Graham Sutherland: A Biography, London 1982, p.110, repr. between pp.64 and 65
Rosalind Thuiller, Graham Sutherland: Inspirations, Guildford 1982, pp.31-2, repr. p.32, pl.25 (col.)
William Feaver, ‘Reassessing Sutherland’, Observer Review, 23 May 1982, p.33
John Spurling, ‘A Man Required to Fill a Place’, New Statesman and Nation, 28 May 1982, p.27
Judith Bumpus, ‘Graham Sutherland: The Artist at Work’, Art and Artists, no.189, June 1982, p.11
Michael Clarke, ‘Single Master’, Times Educational Supplement, 4 June 1982
Edwin Mullins, A Love Affair with Nature: A Personal View of British Art, Oxford 1985, p.62, repr. p.63, pl.25 (col.)
David Gascoyne, Entrance to a Lane, Pat Adams (ed.), With a Poet’s Eye: A Tate Gallery Anthology, London 1986, p.108, repr. p.109 (col.)
David Cohen, ‘Sutherland Prints 1923-78, Redfern Gallery, London’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 131, no.1035, June 1989, p.439
Nannette Aldred, Graham Sutherland: The Early Years 1920-40, exh. cat., Goldsmiths’ Gallery, London 1988, p.12
Malcolm Yorke, The Spirit of Place: Nine Neo-Romantic Artists, London 1988, pp.119, 132, 307, 310, repr. p.120
Stuart Sillars, British Romantic Art and the Second World War, London 1991, pp.152, 156
Mike Smith, ‘Miscellany: Landscape Reflections’, Modern Painters, vol.9, no.2, summer 1996, p.86
The Twentieth Century Art Book, London 1996, p,.448, repr.
Virginia Button, ‘The Aesthetic of Decline: English Neo-Romanticism c.1935-56’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1991, pp.100, 169, 192-3, repr.
Margaret Garlake, New Art New World: British Art in Postwar Society, New Haven and London 1998, p.90

Edward Sackville-West, Graham Sutherland, Harmondsworth 1943, pl.7 (col.), rev. ed., 1955, pl.21 (col.)
William Gaunt, ‘Art in Britain 1935-55: Two Decades of Change’, Arts Digest, vol.29, no.10, Feb. 1955, p.12
John Rothenstein, The Moderns and their World, London 1958, pl.89 (col.)
John Woodward, A Pictorial History: British Painting, London 1962, p.152 (col.)
William Gaunt, A Concise History of English Painting, London 1964, p.234, pl.192 (col.)
‘On Exhibition’, Studio, vol.174, no.891, July 1967, p.61, pl.36
Francesco Arcangeli, Graham Sutherland, Milan 1973, pl.20 (col.)
Roberto Sanesi, Graham Sutherland, Milan 1979, p.66, pl.17

Its combination of an apparently abstract visual vocabulary with the theme of landscape has earned Entrance to a Lane a privileged position in Sutherland’s work and in the history of British art. Such was its influence that it has been described as ‘a visual primer’ for Sutherland’s followers in the early 1940s.[1] The painting clearly illustrates the way in which the artist abstracted his forms from perceived nature to recreate its subjective effect. In a letter to Colin Anderson, published in Horizon the year after this work was painted, Sutherland explained that he sought to express the ‘intellectual and emotional’ essence of a place.[2]

Despite the painting’s appearance, the site on which Entrance to a Lane is based was precisely identified by the artist in 1969 as a lane on the west bank of Sandy Haven, off the Milford Haven estuary in south-west Wales.[3] This was one of two areas of Pembrokeshire visited regularly by Sutherland between 1934 and 1946. The two sites - one a rocky plain edged with monumental hills, the other a deep, verdent estuary of sandy coves and inlets - came to be seen as fundamental to his work and he discussed them and their importance to him in his 1940 letter to Colin Anderson.[4] He described the two areas in visual terms but demonstrated his awareness of their human dimension: ‘we ... found ourselves descending a green lane buried in trees, which, quite unexpectedly, lead to a little cove and beach ... Here is a hamlet - three cottages and an inn ... A man is burning brushwood’.[5] In his description of the innkeeper, who was also the ferry-man and fisherman, Sutherland’s tone echoed the anthropologist’s and so added emphasis to the sense of the ‘exultant strangeness of this place’.[6] He later marked the importance of this corner of Wales to him by the establishment of the Graham Sutherland Gallery at Picton Castle in 1976 (closed 1995), to which this work was on loan from 1983 to 1985.

Sutherland was attracted to the contrasting qualities of the setting, which he described as ‘one of exuberance - of darkness and light - of decay and life’.[7] The suggestion of a dark, decrepit aspect to the landscape is characteristic of his work, but Entrance to a Lane illustrates most clearly his attraction to enclosed spaces. It was the first of several treatments of such sites, including Lane Opening, 1945 (Southampton Art Gallery & Museum ),[8] Path in Wood I, 1958 (Southampton Art Gallery & Museum),[9] Path in Wood II, 1958 (private collection) [10] and Path in Wood III, 1958 (private collection).[11] In his discussion of the Welsh landscape Sutherland referred to a sense of ‘womb-like enclosure’ when seeing a figure on a road[12] and returned to the theme in a later interview. ‘Since I was a child I always had a feeling ... when in contact with certain aspects of Nature’, he said, ‘The quality I felt when I was about ten, of being in a wood, or at the side of a river, the warmth of summer sun, was a thing which still stays with me, and I get enormously moved by this curious sense of enclosure ... of being inside, as it were, a jewel’.[13] Though he insisted that this was an aspect he had ‘never wanted to analyse’, Sutherland’s language suggests an appreciation of the psychoanalytic dimension of an attraction to maternal spaces with associations of childhood. He certainly saw his use of natural forms as a process involving the eye, the mind and the subconscious and his choice of subject as an answer to ‘inner needs’.[14] Works such as Entrance to a Lane have been interpreted in such terms: Nannette Aldred has seen in them ‘a desire to reconstitute landscape in new terms with a deeper security than that offered by the cultural signifiers of the pastoral’, arguing that Sutherland ‘was attempting to reconstitute himself as part of the maternal body’.[15] Virginia Button has associated his ‘womb-like openings’ with André Masson’s Terres Erotiques of the late 1930s and so drawn a parallel between Masson and Georges Bataille’s joint project Acephale and Sutherland’s concern with ‘myths of origin’.[16]

In his enquiry into the attraction of landscape, Jay Appleton has proposed that an unconscious desire for ‘refuge’ is one of the factors that shapes one’s response to a place.[17] Within his ‘prospect-refuge theory’, he described the common characteristics of sites which appear to offer protection, including buildings, caves and woodland. Sutherland’s enclosed, sheltering space fits in with the examples of refuge symbolism that Appleton identified in poetry and painting. The effect is also enhanced by his use of other symbols cited, such as the contrast of light and dark and the suggestion of a view beyond the space. The bright central point of the painting and the curving of the forms around it thus contribute to the attraction of the suggested scene. That symbolism is given an extra poignancy by the artist’s concentration on scenes where refuge is promised rather than actual, as indicated by the title of Entrance to a Lane.

Appleton’s argument draws upon a tradition of landscape painting with which Entrance to a Lane may be associated; this genre has been termed ‘sous-bois’ (undergrowth) and consists primarily of paintings of the inside of woods.[18] In contrast to the more usual prospect painting of the Claudean tradition, these ‘landscapes of immersion’[19] depict natural scenes from close-to while resisting the specificities of botanical studies, they are frequently painted as though near to the ground and often include a path going into the picture space. Though such paintings were especially prevalent in the various artists’ colonies that developed in Europe in the late nineteenth century, precedents may be seen in such works as Gainsborough’s Forest (National Gallery) and the genre has been associated with a northern, rather than Italianate, tradition.[20] In its vertical format, enclosed space and narrow vista along a path, Entrance to a Lane follows the conventions of the sous-bois form. The emphasis on sensory rather than visual experience in such painting finds equal parallel in Sutherland’s description of Sandy Haven.[21] Like sous-bois painting, Entrance to a Lane may thus be seen as an expression of a more subjective response to a place than a panoramic landscape, a reading validated by Sutherland’s own analysis of his approach. Lübbren has suggested that such works defied the touristic rhetoric of the picturesque Claudean tradition and Sutherland’s retreat to a remote corner of Wales has, similarly, been seen as a reaction to the increasing accessibility of the countryside during the 1930s.[22]

Its relationship to a landscape tradition notwithstanding and despite the artist’s imposition of a topographical reading upon it, Entrance to a Lane is one of the most abstract of Sutherland’s works. Various shadows and bands of sunlight were formalised into well-defined areas of solid colour with lemon yellow and pure white providing a central focal point that is off-set by the stylised foliage at the top which gives the clearest hint of the original source. The large apostrophe-like form that dominates the work was an established short-hand signifier for a twisting road that Sutherland had employed in several paintings such as Welsh Landscape with Roads, 1936 (Tate Gallery N05666). The process of abstraction of various motifs - which the artist called paraphrase - led to comparisons between his work and that of Braque, whose paintings of still-lifes and boats on a beach were shown at Rosenberg and Helft, Sutherland’s gallery, in 1936. Furthermore, Robert Melville would later claim that ‘the success with which Sutherland collected the distances of his panoramic landscapes into the “shallow space” concept of cubism’ marked him as the true heir to Cézanne’s landscapes.[23]

The tension between the depth of the tunnel-like space of the painting and the flatness of its surface is heightened by Sutherland’s technique. Some of the forms were painted with thick impasto, most especially the green half-crescent shadow that is so dark that it is almost black which frames the thinly painted, brighter centre, exaggerating the sense of its distance. The deliberateness of this effect is, perhaps, demonstrated by the fact that the impasto appears to have been applied first in white or grey and the green painted over it. In contrast, the foliage, which is also thickly painted, seems to be purely black. In another indication of Sutherland’s debt to Braque, attention is drawn to the picture plane through the texturing of some areas by the addition of sand to the paint, a practice also employed in the almost contemporary Black Landscape, 1939-40 (Tate Gallery T03085). The surface is further emphasised by the pronounced linear element; it was Sutherland’s normal practice to reinstate in black paint the original, generally fairly precise, drawing towards the end of the painting process. A strong linearity was a common feature in the work of artists associated with neo-romanticism and has been seen as indicative of their rejection of ‘Renaissance monumentality and volumetrics’ in favour of ‘a perceived set of continuities between Celtic, Gothic, Romantic and the Modern’.[24]

There are a number of preliminary studies for Entrance to a Lane: one is dated to 9 July 1939, two to the following day and one to 11 July.[25] The three latter studies are inscribed with the time of day: one was executed between 3.30 and 4 o’clock on the afternoon of 10 July, one between 5.30 and 6 pm and the last at that time on 11 July. Given the process of abstraction through which the image would go, it is not clear why Sutherland employed such Monet-like precision in his recording of the time of the drawings’ production. While they give a greater sense of the appearance of the scene, a lost watercolour laid more emphasis on the stylised foliage at the top.[26] A small pen and wash drawing, originally in the collection of Peter Watson, who owned this painting.[27] However, though it has been squared up for transfer, it appears to differ from the oil in several ways. It was Sutherland’s usual practice to square up even the most preliminary of sketches and, though all of his canvases seem to have been composed using that method, changes were nevertheless made during execution.

It is evident from the work that this practice allowed Sutherland to draw the composition in full as there is little overlap between different areas of paint and the bare, apparently unprimed, canvas is visible in places. The support of this work is unusual, being canvas laid onto hardboard with size or glue, with a uniform application of neither priming nor a ground. While the canvas overlaps the back of the board by between 1 1/2 and 2 inches on three sides, along the bottom a 12 1/2 inch length of selvage is missing. It would also appear that the height of the auxiliary support was increased before the work was completed as there is partial paint coverage of the extension; it has been suggested that this may have been done to make the work fit an unnecessary large frame.[28] There is considerable cracking of the paint in some areas - notably the dark green curve - and in places there has been some cleavage. The cupping of the paint started to pull the canvas from the board. Both paint and support have been secured and small losses have been retouched.

This work was acquired from Peter Watson who, as proprietor of Horizon, was a long-standing supporter of the artist. In September 1953 Tate director John Rothenstein wrote to him voicing the gallery’s interest in two key works in his collection - Entrance to a Lane and Gorse on a Sea Wall 1939 (Ulster Museum, Belfast)[29] - and he reluctantly agreed to the sale of the former.

Chris Stephens
November 1998

[1] Virginia Button, ‘The Aesthetic of Decline: English Neo-Romanticism c.1935-56’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1991, p.192
[2] Graham Sutherland, ‘A Welsh Sketchbook’, Horizon, vol.5, no.28, 28 April 1942, pp.225-36, republished in Graham Sutherland, Correspondences: Selected Writings on Art, ed. Julian Andrews, Picton and Geneva 1982, p.49
[3] Graham Sutherland, ‘Map of St David’s Head, Pembrokeshire’, repr. John Hayes, Graham Sutherland, Oxford 1982, p.19, fig.7
[4] Sutherland 1942/1982
[5] Ibid., p.52
[6] Ibid., p.51
[7] Ibid., p.51
[8] Repr. Rosalind Thuiller, Graham Sutherland: Inspirations, Guildford 1982, p.27, pl.18
[9] Repr. Thuiller 1982, p.82, pl.79
[10] Repr. Hayes 1982, p.150, pl.122 (col.)
[11] Repr. Ronald Alley, Graham Sutherland, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1982, p.46 (col.)
[12] Sutherland 1942/1982, p.51
[13] Graham Sutherland, ‘Landscape and Figures: Conversation with Andrew Forge’, Listener, 26 July 1962, republished in Sutherland 1982, p.79
[14] Graham Sutherland, ‘On the Artistic Process: from a letter to H.P.J.’ in Robert Melville, Graham Sutherland, London 1950, republished in Sutherland 1982, p.40
[15] Nannette Aldred, Graham Sutherland: The Early Years 1920-40, exh. cat., Goldsmiths’ Gallery, London 1986, p.12
[16] Button 1991, p.100
[17] Jay Appleton, The Experience of Landscape, Chichester & New York, 1975, rev. ed. 1996
[18] Nina Lübbren, ‘Beyond the Gaze: Landscapes of Immersion’, unpublished paper given at the Association of Art Historians conference, Courtauld Institute of Art, London 1997
[19] Ibid.
[20] Thomas Gainsborough, Gainsborough’s Forest, 1748, National Gallery, London, repr. Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, pl.22
[21] Sutherland 1942/1982, pp.51-2
[22] Aldred 1986, p.21
[23] Robert Melville, Graham Sutherland, London 1950, [p.10]
[24] David Mellor, ‘The Body and the Land: Neo-Romantic Art and Culture’, David Mellor (ed.), A Paradise Lost: The Neo-Romantic Imagination in Britain 1935-55, exh. cat., Barbican Art Gallery, London 1987, p.36
[25] Graham Sutherland, Studies for Entrance to a Lane, 1939, Pallant House, Chichester, repr. Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London 1961, pls.16a-d
[26] Graham Sutherland, Study for Entrance to a Lane, 1939, whereabouts unknown, repr. Hayes 1982, p.74, pl.35
[27] Graham Sutherland, Study for Entrance to a Lane, 1939, private collection, repr. Melville 1950, [p.12], fig.10b
[28] Tate Gallery conservation files
[29] Repr. Cooper 1961, pl.II (col.)

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