Graham Sutherland OM

Study for ‘Horned Forms’


Not on display

Graham Sutherland OM 1903–1980
Gouache on paper
Support: 159 × 133 mm
Presented by the artist 1971

Catalogue entry

Graham Sutherland 1903-80

Study for ‘Horned Forms’ 1944


Gouache, ink and pencil on paper 160 x 135 (6 5/16 x 5 5/16)

Inscribed in black ink ‘S’ t.l. and ‘Sutherland’ b.l. and in pencil ‘1944’ t.l.

Presented by the artist 1971

Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London 1961, p.74
Tate Gallery Report 1970-2, London 1972, p.191

There are two versions of the painting Horned Forms for which this gouache is a study. The earlier and slightly smaller one, now in the Tate Gallery’s collection (T00834), was bought by the artist’s solicitor Wilfred Evill c.1945 and a second was painted for Sutherland’s first New York exhibition at the Buchholz Gallery in February 1946, where it was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, New York.[1] The motif - developed from an actual root which he had found and taken back to his Kent studio - typified his metamorphic approach to painting. Its aggressive form anticipated the series of thorn paintings - Thorn Tree, 1945-6 (British Council),[2] for example - of the following year which were related to his commission for a Crucifixion. They came to be read as symbols of human suffering and cruelty, a theme that related to their historical context, and a similar sub-text may be identified in Horned Forms.

Studies for paintings hold a particularly privileged position in Sutherland’s oeuvre as they were frequently reproduced and exhibited. His development of an image by the gradual transformation of an actual object - a natural objet trouvé - into a symbolic presence became the central explanation of his practice and the presentation of numerous studies served to reinforce this process.[3] Four studies for Horned Forms, in similar media to this one, were reproduced in the major monograph on his work: though the first shows the root facing the other way and surmounted by a bird, in the other three its position and bestial attitude were already established.[4] The Tate’s drawing is only marginally bigger than those but, because it has been squared-up, it has been suggested that it was the last study before the painting.[5] This may be so, but it was typical for Sutherland to square up many of his drawings. In fact, it appears that the relationship between paintings and their studies was more complex than such a straight translation would suggest. It seems likely that the grid was used as only a rough compositional guide and frequently, as in the case of Horned Forms, the squaring-up visible on the final work was redrawn after painting.

This image consists of gouache and soft pencil applied over a red ink and hard pencil grid. For the support the artist pasted three sheets of smooth white paper together to produce a three-ply card. The top sheet was creased before painting began, notably in the bottom left hand corner, and more recently there have been losses along the top edge towards the top right hand corner. There is linear cracking in paint and paper just below this. In 1975 the adhesion between paper layers was made good and the loss was toned with watercolour. Presented to the Tate with neither mount nor frame, the picture was attached to a secondary board of the same size and framed.[6]

Chris Stephens
November 1998

[1] Repr. Robert Melville, Graham Sutherland, London 1950, pl.7
[2] Repr. Cooper 1961, pl.81
[3] See, for example, Graham Sutherland, ‘Modern Art Explained by Modern Artists: Interview with R. Myerscough-Walker’, The Artist, March 1944, republished in Sutherland 1982, p.56
[4] Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London 1961, pls.58a-d
[5] Tate Gallery Report 1970-2, London 1972, p.191
[6] Tate Gallery conservation files

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