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Sutherland’s Sketches on display at Waterfront

Visitors to the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea will have a one-off chance to view more than 60 sketch book drawings by celebrated artist Graham Sutherland in a brand new exhibition titled From Darkness into Light: Mining, Metal and Machines.

Graham Sutherland (1903 – 1980) Outcast coal production – untitled, c.1940-5 Ink, pencil and gouache on paper, 16.2 x 15.2 cm Private Collection © The Estate of Graham Sutherland
Graham Sutherland (1903 – 1980) Opening the Tap Hole on an Open-hearth Furnace, 1942 Ink, pencil and gouache on paper, 15.1 x 11 cm Private Collection © The Estate of Graham Sutherland
Graham Sutherland (1903 – 1980) Feeding a steel furnace, Swansea, 1942 Ink, pencil and gouache on paper, 23 x 19.5 cm Private Collection © The Estate of Graham Sutherland

Graham Sutherland (1903-80) has been hailed as the greatest English landscape painter of the twentieth century and one of the greatest English portrait painters of all time. 

In 1942, as a leading artist of his day, Sutherland was commissioned as an Official War Artist to document the industry behind the War effort. One of the sites he was sent to was Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall, which proved inspirational, prompting a change in his work that was to last throughout his long career. 

Sutherland’s initial training had been as an engineering draughtsman, and this gave him an advantage both in recording the machinery in use and being able to converse with those who operated it. While the documentary works the War Office wanted and expected were delivered, showing the toil of the miners and evoking the claustrophobic conditions in which they worked, Sutherland also saw the anthropomorphic characteristics of the equipment in use, fuelling his imagination for life-long explorations of machine forms.

His war work also sent him to a number of steelworks in south Wales to see the other end of the metal industry - the processing of ore into sheet metal.  For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Cornish mining and Welsh smelting led the world in metal commerce, and although these links had faded by the time of Sutherland’s commission, many of the great South Wales industrialists hailed from Cornish mine-owning dynasties. 

From Darkness into Light includes drawings that Sutherland produced both at Geevor and in south Wales. Most of the drawings are being borrowed from a private collection outside the UK, so this will be a unique chance to view them.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated publication about Sutherland and the industries depicted, published by Sansom & Company. The book includes essays by Sutherland expert Sally Moss, curator of the exhibition, Professor Paul Gough, a renowned expert on War art and Dr Tehmina Goskar, an industrial historian specialising in Cornwall and south Wales. All the drawings at the Museum are illustrated, as well as others from the original larger exhibition that opened at Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance, in September 2013.

It also showcases an 11 minute DVD of historic interviews with the artist as well as a commentary by modern historians on Sutherland’s wartime work, including visits to the mines and works he depicted.

Speaking about the exhibition, Andrew Deathe, Gallery Author at the National Waterfront Museum said: “It’s a wonderful addition to the temporary exhibitions programme as it offers something very different for our visitors to see. We’ve already received lots of positive comments about the works and we hope many more people will pop into see it.”

Curator of the exhibition, Sally Moss said: "Throughout his life Sutherland used what he called his ‘visual dictionaries’ - sketchbooks as storehouses of captured scenes, objects, textures and colours.

“All the drawings in the exhibition were ones that were kept as a personal record of the industrial sites he visited to record Great Britain at war. But they also confirm his real fascination and love of machines when, as a young apprentice, he became amazed at the transformation of blocks of metal into the modern steam locomotive…with all its intricate sophistication.

So enjoy this glimpse into his private world - you may never get another chance.”

Graham Sutherland: From Darkness into Light - Mining, Metal and Machines will be on display until Sunday 23 March 2014. It is on loan from Penlee House Gallery and Museum, and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.


For more information and images, please contact Marie Szymonski on (029) 2057 3600.