Graham Sutherland OM

Working Drawing for ‘Origins of the Land’


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Not on display

Graham Sutherland OM 1903–1980
Graphite, ink, wax crayon, gouache and oil paint on paper
Support: 635 x 505 mm
Presented by Sir Kenneth Clark (later Lord Clark of Saltwood) 1979

Display caption

This is a study for a huge painting called The Origins of the Land, which is currently hanging over the staircase in the Tate Britain’s Manton Entrance. The painting was commissioned for the ‘Land of Britain’ pavilion at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

A key theme of the Festival was the fusion of the timeless land and modernisation. The ‘Land of Britain’ pavilion suggested the land was the basis for Britain’s future. Sutherland’s painting suggests a cross-section through the earth, with images of growth below ground, topped by structures which ‘represent the action of water and wind on the earth’s surface’.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Graham Sutherland 1903-80

Working Drawing for ‘The Origins of the Land’ 1951


Pencil, ink, wax crayon, gouache and oil on paper 635 x 506 (25 x 19 13/16)

Inscribed in black ink ‘to my friends K & Jane | with affection aug. 19 1951’ b.l.

Presented by Lord Clark of Saltwood 1979

A gift of the artist to Sir Kenneth and Lady Clark 1951

Graham Sutherland; Keith Vaughan; Contemporary French and English Lithographs, Redfern Gallery, London, Nov.-Dec. 1952 (308, as Large size study no.8)
Drawings for Pictures, Arts Council tour 1953, Arts Council Gallery, London, Feb.-March, Ferens Gallery, Hull, Liverpool College of Art, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, Plymouth City Art Gallery (25)
Graham Sutherland: Austellung von Gouachen, Aquarellen und Zeichnung verstaltet vom British Council in Wien unter Mitwirkung der Albertina, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck, 1954 (40)
Thirty Contemporary Paintings, Arts Council tour 1954, Gerrards Cross Memorial Centre, Sept. 1954, Bootle Art Gallery, Brighton Art Gallery (28)
Some Twentieth Century Watercolours, Arts Council tour 1956, Lewes Art Gallery, Jan. 1956, Brighouse Art Gallery, Turner Art Gallery, Penarth, The Mining Centre, St Helens, Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter, Arts Council Gallery, Edinburgh (41)
Graham Sutherland, Tate Gallery, London, May-July 1982 (113, repr.)
Graham Sutherland, Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt, Aug.-Sept. 1982 (219, repr. p.186)
A Paradise Lost: The Neo-Romantic Imagination in Britain 1935-55, Barbican Art Gallery, London, May-July 1987 (341)

Toni del Renzio, ‘Redfern Gallery’, Art News and Review, vol.4, no.23, 13 Dec. 1952, [p.4]
Tate Gallery Aquisitions 1978-80, London 1981, pp.165-6

Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London 1961, pl.114a

The Origins of the Land (Tate Gallery N06085) was commissioned from Sutherland for the ‘Land of Britain’ pavilion at the South Bank site of the Festival of Britain in 1951. It was the artist’s usual practice to produce numerous sketches and intermediary studies for a painting, but one might expect the monumental scale of that work (4255 x 3277 mm/167 1/2 x 129 inches) to have required even more than normal and this appears to have been the case. A few years earlier he had subsidised the commission of a Crucifixion for St Matthew’s Church, Northampton by selling studies and related paintings, such as the Tate Gallery’s Crucifixion, 1946 (N05774). He adopted this policy after the Festival of Britain with his 1952 exhibition at the Redfern Gallery where he showed fifty-three ‘Ideas and Studies for the Festival Painting “THE ORIGINS OF THE LAND”’, which were categorised as large, medium and small. This Working Drawing was lent to the exhibition by Kenneth Clark and its listing as ‘Study no.8’ of the large size pictures clearly only applied to the exhibition and made no reference to the order in which the works were produced.

Toni del Renzio described The Origins of the Land as ‘the most impressive failure of the Southbank’ and thought the studies helped to explain this. In them he identified ‘two fundamental and interdependent weaknesses ... an insufficiently resilient draughtsmanship which hampers the artist’s intentions and forces him constantly to rely upon readymade quirks and quips, and a certain inability to handle spatial relations which consequently reduces the play of tensions in the picture surface’.[1] He also believed that the studies betrayed ‘certain intellectual confusions’ which undermined the painting’s symbolism and made ‘of mystery only mystification’. It seems likely that he was referring to the changes made to the composition and to particular passages which were reworked several times. In contrast, Robert Melville thought the ‘wide-ranging exploration of the theme reveals the extraordinarily rich background of forms and ideas from which the artist’s monumental image of slow growth emerged’.[2]

This study is closer to the final form of the composition than any other, indicating that it must have been made while the painting was in progress. It has been squared up for transfer but the fact that there is more than one grid - one in red crayon, the other in pencil - and that they are more concentrated over particular passages might suggest that Sutherland used the drawing to introduce certain details into the composition. Photographs of the main painting in progress show that the canvas was originally taller and that the uppermost section was significantly different,[3] so the fact that the proportions of this drawing are similar to those of the finished painting may associate it with that adjustment. The upper section, however, appears to have been altered at an earlier stage as a drawing in the British Council collection includes the main elements of that area - the two crescents in the middle and the oval on the right - but retains the original, narrow vertical format and has a different arrangement of standing forms in the foreground.[4] The upper stratum is the subject of a gouache study in the Government Art Collection in which the right hand oval and central crescents are the same as in the Tate’s study and the final painting but the left hand segment is different from both, suggesting that this area was especially problematic.[5]

This conjecture would seem to be confirmed by the fact that the upper part of this study was altered by the addition of two extra pieces of paper. The edges of these coincide with the drawn grid, on one piece encompassing the left hand section of rock forms, and on the other the right hand crescent in the middle. They have been joined to the main sheet of white, heavy weight machine-made paper with brown paper tape. This was also used to repair numerous tears around the edges and has caused distortion in the support.[6] A mixture of media was used, leaving the picture surface fragile and there are extensive areas where the top layer of paint seems to have fallen off. The gouache is especially prone to flaking where it was applied over wax crayon but all of the loose paint has been secured. The drawing seems to be in black ink and black crayon while the areas of colour are of crayon (for example, white, yellow and green), gouache and oil paint. The latter has stained the paper, especially where it was painted over the water soluble gouache. The range of media and techniques may suggest a disregard for the picture’s survival that would be consistent with its status as a working drawing. There are a number of weevil-like small holes which may have appeared while the picture was at Saltwood Castle, the Clarks’ mediaeval home in Kent.

The commission for The Origins of the Land signalled Sutherland’s status as, perhaps, the favoured British painter of his generation and the degree to which that was due to Clark’s help may be seen to be reflected in the inscribed dedication of this study. Kenneth Clark had been a supporter of Sutherland’s since their first meeting in 1934: he had bought numerous works, ensured the painter’s inclusion in the War Artists scheme and even given a mortgage on the Sutherlands’ home in Kent. The charismatic former director of the National Gallery worked for a revival in informed patronage and did not, himself, simply collect art but sought to promote certain artists through the dissemination and distribution of his collection. After the war, in the early years of the Arts Council, which he would later chair, he lent many works while the Council built up its own collection. This may explain the large number of exhibitions in which this drawing was included in the early 1950s.

Chris Stephens
November 1998

[1] Toni del Renzio, ‘Redfern Gallery’, Art News and Review, vol.4, no.23, 13 Dec. 1952, [p.4]
[2] Robert Melville, ‘Exhibitions’, Architectural Review, vol.113, no.674, Feb. 1953, p.134
[3] Repr. Douglas Cooper, The Work of Graham Sutherland, London 1961, pls.113c-d and Roger Berthoud, Graham Sutherland: A Biography, London 1982, between pp.64 and 65
[4] Repr. Ronald Alley, Graham Sutherland, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1982, p.128, no.166
[5] Origins of the Land No.6 1950, Government Art Collection, repr. Government Art Collection of the United Kingdom: The Twentieth Century, London 1997, p.141 no.7084
[6] Tate Gallery conservation files

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