Visual Arts: A Thorny Reputation the Paintings of the Once-Fashionable Graham Sutherland Have Fallen Fro M Favour. Is It Time for a Reassessment?
Glover, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
ANDRAS KALMAN, that dapper, elderly Knightsbridge art-dealer, lets his hand come to rest, with infinite tact, upon my forearm. "And now I am going to be very indiscreet," he tells me. I bend an ear. We are standing in front of a large oil painting by Graham Sutherland, one of the 40 canvases in a mini-retrospective at the Crane Kalman Gallery, the first major showing of Sutherland's work in this country for a decade and a half. The painting, Thorn Head, is dated 1947. It is one of his characteristically spiky plant forms, with heavy religious overtones.
"I am not really supposed to say who owns what, but I shall tell you that this one" - he points towards it, with a decent glass of red wine in his hand - "belongs to Richard Attenborough. It was just after Gandhi, when you could get a Sutherland of this size for, well, pounds 16,000-pounds 18,000. Dicky was in the money just then, and he said to me, `Darling, let's see what goodies you have.' This was one of them. He bought it."
Andras Kalman, who fled to England from Hungary in 1939, has been dealing in Sutherland since the Fifties. He gave him a show in Manchester in 1956. "The atmosphere was so much easier and friendlier then. There were no such things as contracts..." The sudden decline of Sutherland's reputation since his death in 1980 has saddened Kalman. (The Picasso Museum at Antibes put on a full-scale Sutherland retrospective last summer. It was offered to England. The catalogue had been written, the show already curated. No major English institution would touch it.) Why did he disappear? Kalman tells me about attacks on him by the critics for his high living. Sutherland loved staying at the Connaught, dining at Cipriani's. "They said that he'd sold out to the important and the fashionable." He was, he explains, a real "gentleman painter" by the end, feted by Lord Beaverbrook in his newspapers, portraitist to the rich and the famous. Some of these portraits - the early one of Somerset Maugham, for example - were brilliant and quite pitiless (Churchill's wife had his portrait by Sutherland destroyed) - and in no way marred by sycophancy. Many others were decidedly mediocre, probably painted to keep money flowing in to subsidise the expensive life-style appropriate to an English gentleman. …