The Fine Art Society at Sotheby’s
An Auction to Celebrate 142 years on New Bond Street
Graham Sutherland, O.M.
Marsh Below Hills, 1939
Ink and wash on gesso primed board, signed and dated with initials GS / 39 (lower right); also signed Graham Sutherland, titled Marsh below Hillsand dated 1939 on the reverse
22 by 15cm., 8½ by 6in.
Provenance: Milner Gray and thence by descent
The period between the Wall Street Crash and the outbreak of the Second World War, the 1930s, was the most important of Sutherland’s career. It saw a precocious student etcher mature into the greatest British landscape painter of the 20th century. This small panel, which belonged to a close lifelong friend, Milner Gray, illustrates the transition. The back of the panel is its own commentary on the artist’s journey from printmaker to painter. It was cut from a rejected oil painting which still reveals enough of its subject to connect it to such works as Tree Forms in Estuary 1939, a watercolour in the collection of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council.
The landscape of Wales was the inspiration for Sutherland to become a painter. It was a struggle to suppress his natural gifts for draughtsmanship and to adopt the brush. The muted colours and twisted shapes he found in Pembrokeshire provided the visual stimulus which culminated in his masterpiece, Entrance to a Lane 1939, in the collection of Tate Britain. Marsh below Hills shares many characteristics with Entrance to a Lane, but it still refers back to the intensity of his earlier etchings.
Milner Gray, who owned this painting, left Goldsmiths’ College at the end of 1921, the year Graham Sutherland started. They shared digs in Blackheath while Sutherland was still at the College: Gray had set up a design consultancy, Bassett Gray. He showed Sutherland’s work to Jack Beddington, who conceived the Shell advertising campaign, commissioning work from many of the best contemporary artists. Gray later lodged with Graham and Kathleen and in 1980, he sat for one of the last portraits Sutherland painted.
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