The present work has remained in the same family since it was purchased by Sir Colin and Lady Anderson on the advice of Rex Nan Kivell in 1945. Sir Colin Anderson joined the family shipping firm Anderson, Green & Co in 1935 and became responsible for creating a more modern aesthetic in the ship’s interiors, most notably in the flagship of the Orient Line, Orion. Although always destined to enter the family business Sir Colin’s love of art began as an undergraduate at Oxford. While studying at Trinity College he became friends with Sir Kenneth Clark who introduced him to many of the emerging artists at that time, many of whom he subsequently commissioned to produce work for Orient Line ships between 1935 and 1960. It was through Kenneth Clark that Anderson met Graham Sutherland. Although Sutherland didn’t execute any commissions for the Orient Line, Sir Colin supported him throughout the 1930s and 1940s for which he was always grateful, writing 'I do thank you for being literally the only one of my earliest supporters who follows what I am trying to do as I try to do it, naturally, and without slight prompting on my part' (G, Sutherland, quoted in R. Berthoud, Graham Sutherland A Biography, London, 1982, p. 119).
At the age of 30, Sir Colin’s friend, Kenneth Clark, had become Director of the National Gallery, London, however, with the advent of war and the transfer of the Galleries collection to the slate mines of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Clark was recruited into the Ministry of Information where he was to set up the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. Here he employed official war artists to record the conflict at home and abroad to raise morale and promote Britain’s image overseas. Graham Sutherland, who was already a close friend, was invited to become such an artist and in fact, due to his and Kathleen’s worsening economic situation, was persuaded to sub-let their house in Trottiscliffe, Kent and move in with the Clarks at Upton House, Gloucestershire in 1939. In December of the same year Sutherland visited a new area of Wales that neither he nor Kathleen had previously explored. Abergavenny and the rugged mountains of the Brecon Beacons became Sutherland's new point of reference and inspirational landscape. Writing to the Clarks in December he enthused, 'I have been working every day, and have found some electrifying motifs ... Yesterday we were spell-bound at sunset by the effect of the sun coming through holes in the clouds and making orange red patches on the blue-back mountains' (G. Sutherland, quoted in ibid., p. 95).
Road and Quarry was painted soon after this visit to mid-Wales. The rich flaming oranges and blood reds wrestle with the deep claustrophobic darkness of the night. Painted in 1940, it not only anticipates his work as a war artist depicting the molten steel works of Cardiff and the tin mines of Cornwall but exudes a feeling of disquiet and impending violence. Painted during the period known as the 'phoney war', the present work has a sense of the calm before the storm, the impending evil just beyond the horizon, beckoned in by the rising dawn.
Sutherland himself wrote to Sir Colin Anderson about his experiences in Wales, saying that, 'I wish I could give you some idea of the exultant strangeness of this place – for strange it certainly is, many people whom I know hate it, and I cannot but admit that it possesses an element of disquiet. The left bank as we see it is all dark – an impenetrable damp green gloom of woods which run down to the edge of low brackish moss-covered cliffs – its all dark, save where the mossy lanes which dives down to the opening, admit the sun, hinged as it were, to the top of the trees, from where its rays, precipitating new colours, turn and red cliffs of the right hand bank to tones of fire. Do you remember the rocks in Blake’s 'Newton’ drawing? The form and scale of the rocks here, and the minutiae on the them, is very similar. The whole setting is one of exuberance – of darkness and light – of decay and life. Rarely have I been so conscious of the contrasting of these elements in so small a compass' (G. Sutherland, 'Letter to C.A.', Horizon, April 1942).
In Road and Quarry Sutherland has managed to combine the intricate romanticism of William Blake with the untamed timeless landscape of Wales to create a dark and deeply powerful symbol of the impending destruction on the eve of war. The primordial landscape is made current through Sutherland’s intimate relationship with nature. He creates metaphors for the world around him as he looks to distil and then express his emotions towards the contemporary world through the rendering of the ancient Welsh landscape.