John Tunnard

Tol Pedn


John Tunnard 1900–1971
Oil paint and graphite on board
Support: 733 × 641 mm
frame: 915 × 815 × 50 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1981

Display caption

Tol-Pedn, Penwith, near to Tunnard’s home on the Lizard Peninsular, is the most southerly point of the British mainland. Its concrete landmarks appear to have inspired this abstract landscape. Tunnard is said to have turned three somersaults at the opening of his exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim’s London gallery in 1939. He was among a number of British artists attracted to Surrealism between the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936 and the outbreak of the Second World War, when he served in the coastguard in Cornwall.

Gallery label, January 2022

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Catalogue entry

T03227 TOL PEDN 1942

Inscribed ‘John Tunnard 42’ bottom right
Oil and pencil on board, 29 × 25 1/4 (73.6 × 64.2)
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1981
Prov: Purchased from the Hamet Gallery by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1971
Exh: Britain's Contribution to Surrealism of the 30's and 40's, Hamet Gallery, November 1971 (110); RA, April–July 1972 (672)
Repr: RA Illustrated, 1972, p.3

This picture was exhibited at the Hamet Gallery in 1971 and again, after Tunnard's death, at the Royal Academy in 1972 as ‘Tolpen’, but this title seems to be mis-spelt.

Rudolph Glossop, who lives near Penzance and was a friend of the artist, says that he and his wife remember the picture and are sure that its subject is Tol-Pedn, Penwith, the most southerly point in Britain, a headland near the village of Porthgwarra.

'John, who served as a coastguard during the war knew the place well and was fascinated by it, partly by the interest and splendour of the scene, and partly by two artificial “landmarks” on the cliff top. These are large concrete obelisks painted boldly in red and white and black and white. They are sc aligned as to be an aid to navigators in keeping to the seaward of the Runnel Stone, a most dangerous reef about 2 Kms.south of Tol-Pedn.

'The two small objects, like chess pawns, in the foreground of the picture represent these landmarks, and have an importance in the subtle geometry of the picture out of all proportion to their size. They provide internal evidence that the scene is indeed based on Tol-Pedn-Penwith.

'As regards the word “Tolpen”, I believe that I said to you yesterday that I knew of no such place-name. Today I telephoned to Professor Charles Thomas, Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies, who confirmed from his much wider knowledge that there is no such place-name down here. Indeed he went further and said that linguistically the word “Tolpen” is unacceptable. Tol Pedn, on the other hand is in regular use locally, for Tol-Pedn-Penwith.

'During the last two years of John's life it was difficult to communicate with him for his articulation was very poor and his recall of words faulty. A stranger might easily have written down the word “Tolpen” and it would have been beyond John's powers to correct him. It is my belief that the correct name of the picture is Tol Pedn’. (Letter of 14 February 1984.)

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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