Graham Sutherland, O.M. (1903-1980)
Thorn Cross
signed and dated 'Sutherland 9.V.58' (upper left), signed with initials, inscribed and dated again 'THORN CROSS/9.V.58 G.S/15.II.59' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39¼ x 52 in. (99.5 x 132 cm.)
with Marlborough Fine Art, London.
J.D. Watson, Cambridge.
with Paul Rosenberg Gallery, New York.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Graham Sutherland, March - May 1967, no. 60: this exhibition travelled to the Hague, Gemeentemuseum, June - July; Berlin, Haus am Waldsee, August - September; and Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, October - November.

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Bernard Williams
Bernard Williams

Lot Essay

In February 1944 Sutherland began to depict the thorn motif in his paintings: 'My thorn pictures came into being in a curious way. I had been asked by the Vicar of St Matthew's, Northampton, to paint a Crucifixion ... So far I had made no drawings - and I went into the country. For the first time I started to notice thorn bushes, and the structure of thorns as they pierced the air. I made some drawings, and as I made them a curious change developed. As the thorns rearranged themselves, they became, whilst still retaining their own pricking, space-encompassing life, something else - a kind of 'stand-in' for a Crucifixion and a crucified head ...

'The thorns sprang from the idea of potential cruelty - to me they were the cruelty; and I attempted to give the idea a double twist, as it were, by setting them in benign circumstances: blue skies, green grass, Crucifixions under warmth' (see exhibition catalogue, Graham Sutherland, London, Tate Gallery, 1982, pp. 108-109).

In 1945 and 1946 Sutherland developed this motif, painting works such as Thorn Trees, 1946 (British Council) and Thorn Trees, 1946 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo). He returned to the theme in the spring of 1954, where he was inspired by a mountain walk behind Monte Carlo. Here he found small tightly growing bushes growing close to the ground, which inspired works such as Thorn Form, 1955 (Sao Paolo Museum, Brazil). The present work, painted in 1958-59, embodies the thorn and crucifix motifs, and together with the vivid yellow background supports his 'double twist' of 'Crucifixions under warmth' (loc. cit.).

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