GRAHAM SUTHERLAND (1903-1982)
MODERN BRITISH (20th Century )
Study, Tin Mine: View down a Stope, June 1942 (United Kingdom, 1942)
Ink, pencil, chalk and gouache on paper
Roberto Tassi, Sutherland the Wartime Drawings, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1980, number 64, illustrated page 79
London, Graham Sutherland, an exhibition on loan at Olympia, 25 February - 2 March 2003
Description / Expertise
Graham Sutherland’s next assignment from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee after the blast furnaces of South Wales began in June 1942 with three weeks spent underground in Cornish tin mines. He was based at Geevor Mine at Pendeen on the north side of the narrow peninsula of Lands End. Although the tin mine was not strictly a war subject it was part of the war effort and British tin was needed urgently to compensate for lost imports. Graham Sutherland was enthralled by what he saw as a world of such beauty that I shall never forget ... He wrote in a letter to Kenneth Clark and his wife: The mines are stupendous and thrilling to a degree which I wouldn’t have believed possible and enthusiastically he set about his work, painting and drawing the maze like mine from every possible perspective.
Study, Tin Mine: View Down a Stope, with its paradoxical viewpoint, both monumental and claustrophobic, suggests something of the sheer scale of the mine. A stope is step-like working in a mine to extract ore. Stopes are the working areas of a mine. Ore is removed from the stopes thru chutes to the level below. The size/shape of a stope is determined by the mining method employed. The tunnels were anything up to a mile long and Graham Sutherland often had to mark his way on the walls in chalk to avoid getting lost. Far from the main shaft, the sense of remoteness was tangible and the distances seemed endless. Faintly, far away, was the sound of work on other levels. Through his dramatic lighting and complex perspective, the eye literally plunges from the light, golden earth of the foreground into the vast depths of the mine.
Graham Sutherland found extraordinary beauty in the variety of shapes, colours and textures of the mine. The shafts descended in all directions, diagonally and horizontally randomly following the veins of metal. In Study, Tin Mine: View Down a Stope Sutherland has carefully orchestrated a variety of mediums: ink, pencil, chalk and gouache to suggest the organic textures of the mine, a skill which he had no doubt developed during his work as an etcher.
The tin miners, whom Sutherland described as grand, handsome da Vinci types, were themselves hugely inspirational in his art. Just as Wales, with its tightly packed hills, empty valleys cliffs and estuaries had been a place of self discovery for Sutherland before the war, Cornwall proved to be an equally pivotal force in his art. It was during the three weeks in Pendeen that he first turned his attentions to portraiture, making highly detailed drawings of the miners both in close profile with pipes ‘jutting from their mouths’ and at work, sat in tunnels or wielding their drills.