Sutherland's Enduring Love Affair; A New Exhibition in Milford Haven Brings the Work of One of Britain's Greatest Painters Back to the Town That Was His "Third Home". Jenny White Describes How Wales Unlocked Graham Sutherland's Genius as a Painter

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Sutherland's Enduring Love Affair; A New Exhibition in Milford Haven Brings the Work of One of Britain's Greatest Painters Back to the Town That Was His "Third Home". Jenny White Describes How Wales Unlocked Graham Sutherland's Genius as a Painter


GRAHAM Sutherland's name is inextricably linked to Wales. One of the great British painters of the last century, he grew up in Surrey and first made his mark as an etcher, creating romantic and pastoral scenes that sold well but eventually brought him to a dead end creatively.

He felt his work was out of step with the dramatic world events of the 1920s and '30s, and longed to make work of greater relevance to the times in which he was living.

By the mid '30s he was starting to forge a new career as a painter, but his true genius was as yet untapped. It was a chance conversation with gallery owner RobertWellington that set him on the right path. Wellington recommended that he visit Wales in search of subject matter.

In particular, he recommended several places in Pembrokeshire, including Solva, St Davids and Whitesands Bay. In the summer of 1934 Sutherland and his wife Kathleen set off to Wales. Wellington was right: the trip was to have a dramatic effect on Sutherland's work.

The artist became transfixed by the "exultant strangeness" of the Pembrokeshire landscape.

In a famous open letter to patron Colin Anderson, he wrote: "The quality of the light here is magical and transforming - as indeed it is in all this country. Watching from the gloom as the sun's rays strike the further bank, one has the sensation of the after tranquillity of an explosion of light. Or as if one had looked back into the sun and had turned suddenly away."

Sutherland developed a whole new way of working in Wales. He found that while he could make copious sketches on site, he was unable to make a finished painting while still in front of his subject. Instead, he had to let it rest in his mind for a while, before revisiting it in his studio, where he was able to refine and simplify what he had seen, drawing out the most important elements. He told Colin Anderson: "The spaces and concentrations of this clearly constructed land were stuff for storing in the mind. Their essence was intellectual and emotional... I found that I could express what I felt only by paraphrasing what I saw... it was in this area that I learned that landscape is not necessarily scenic, but that its parts have an individual figurative detachment."

Sutherland developed a fascination with Pembrokeshire that was to last the rest of his life. The writhing, sensual shapes of his Pembrokeshire paintings and sketches reflect his love of "the deep green valleys and the rounded hills. …

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