Graham Sutherland, O.M. (1903-1980)
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Graham Sutherland, O.M. (1903-1980)

Horizontal Form in Grasses

Graham Sutherland, O.M. (1903-1980)
Horizontal Form in Grasses
signed and dated 'Sutherland 51' (upper left), inscribed and dated again 'HORIZONTAL FORM/IN GRASSES/1951' (on the reverse)
oil and cotton wool on canvas
20 x 36 in. (50.8 x 91.5 cm.)
Purchased by the present owner at the 1951 exhibition for £157.10.
Exhibition catalogue, An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Graham Sutherland, London, Arts Council and Tate Gallery, 1953, no. 60, pl. 9.
D. Cooper, Graham Sutherland, London, 1961, p. 79, pl. 105C.
Exhibition catalogue, Graham Sutherland, Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, 1965, pp. 172-73, pl. 71B.
F. Arcangeli, Graham Sutherland, Milan, 1973, p. 36, no. 90, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Graham Sutherland, London, Tate Gallery, 1982, p. 118, no. 144, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Graham Sutherland, Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe, 1982, pp. 160-61, no. 192, illustrated.
London, Hanover Gallery, Graham Sutherland Recent Works, June - August 1951, no. 13.
Venice, British Council, XXVI Biennale, Exhibition of works by Sutherland, Wadsworth, Adams, Armitage, Butler, Chadwick, Clarke, Meadows, Moore, Paolozzi, Turnbull, June - October 1952, no. 53: this exhibition travelled to Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, November - December 1952; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, January 1953, no. 51; and Zürich, Kunsthaus, March 1953, no. 51.
London, Arts Council, Tate Gallery, An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Graham Sutherland, May - August 1953, no. 60.
Vienna, British Council, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Graham Sutherland, 1954-55, no. 32: this exhibition travelled to Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck; Berlin; Cologne; Stuttgart; Mannheim; and Hamburg.
Plymouth, Arts Council, Museum and Art Gallery, Three Masters of Modern British Painting: Ivon Hitchens, Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland, June 1961, no. 56: this exhibition travelled to Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, July; Leeds, Temple Newsam House, July - August; Manchester, City Art Gallery, August - September; and Cheltenham, Art Gallery and Museum, September - October.
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Graham Sutherland, October - November 1965, no. 71b.
Basel, Kunsthalle, Graham Sutherland Retrospective, February - March 1966, no. 64.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Graham Sutherland Retrospective, March - May 1967, no. 31: this exhibition travelled to The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, June - July; Berlin, Haus am Waldsee, August - September; and Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, October - November.
London, Tate Gallery, Graham Sutherland, May - July 1982, no. 144: this exhibition travelled to Darmstadt, Mathildenhöhe, August - September, no. 192.
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Lot Essay

Since the mid-1930s Sutherland had made his own distinctive use of the Surrealist idea of the 'found object', meaning the chance encounter with some item from the everyday world that served to spark off unconscious fantasies in artist and then viewer. Many of his pictures are dominated by an object such as a tree root, which the artist drew in the landscape and perhaps removed to his studio, as the prelude to a process of artistic transformation. Applying this method in Pembrokeshire, and later in the South of France, Sutherland extracted a kind of landscape imagery that he valued as the opposite of 'scenic' or picturesque. In rugged places, he found himself drawn to natural elements that possessed 'a kind of presence': 'I won't go further than that, and say it was a human presence ... Shadow had a presence; certain configurations of rock seemed to go beyond just being rock, they were emanations of some kind of personality' (see 'Landscape and Figures: Graham Sutherland discusses his art with Andrew Forge', The Listener, 26 July 1962, p. 132).

If the projection of obscure human or animal attributes onto found natural elements is a constant feature of Sutherland's art, the result is particularly ambiguous and mysterious in a series of pictures that he produced around 1950. He began to work with bulbous, organic forms that might just as easily have originated, one feels, in plant roots, or in the shells of fruit or insects. The source material, whatever its precise identity, was one of his discoveries while roaming the exotic landscape of the Midi, during the extended periods he had now taken to spending away from England. Such forms served as the starting point for the vertical, almost figurative imagery of the monumental picture Standing Form against a Hedge (1950, collection of Arts Council; illustrated in M. Hammer, Graham Sutherland: Landscapes, War Scenes, Portraits 1924-50, London, 2005, p. 165). Equally, they were deployed horizontally in a series of pictures, including the present work which Sutherland executed during the early part of 1951.

The strange, metamorphic creatures seem here to move purposefully from left to right across the canvas, evoking a form of insect life whose species is as mysterious as their physical scale. The atmosphere of the imagery is disquieting, even sinister, while the visual language is colourful and life-affirming. Such ambiguities were fundamental to Sutherland's art, as he explained in a contemporary radio talk: 'It has been said that my most typical images express a point of view dark and pessimistic. That is foreign to my mind. The precarious tension of opposites - happiness and unhappiness, beauty and ugliness - so near the point of equilibrium, can be interpreted, perhaps, according to the predilections and needs of the spectator - with delight or horror, as with the taste of bitter-sweet fruit' (G. Sutherland, 'Thoughts on Painting', The Listener, 6 September 1951, reprinted in Hammer, op. cit., p. 145).


Peter Meyer recalled his first meeting with Graham Sutherland, 'Soon after I bought Horizontal Form in Grasses, the tails of the form began to come away from the canvas and it was apparent that the paint had been mixed with some cotton wool, as was the top centre of the form (which had never given trouble). At the time Graham had been seeing a lot of Francis Bacon who often used this technique. I complained to the gallery and Graham (whom I had not met) asked me to bring the picture down to lunch the next Saturday at his home in Kent. He took off the easel the Thorn Head [lot 78], which I then bought, and muttered something about there having been some cotton wool floating in the air at the time. He then repainted it in front of me. He told me the background represented a derelict corner of Nice racecourse' (private correspondence).

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