John Tunnard, ARA (1900-1971)

Tunnard’s early works were considered fairly conventional. His first major exhibition, held in 1932 at the Redfern Gallery, featured landscapes, marine scenes and still lives. From the mid-1930’s, however, he began to paint abstract works influenced by the styles of Joan Miró and Paul Klee, and further embraced British surrealism after reading Herbert Read on the subject. His works featured architectural and biomorphic forms combined with elements of constructivism. In his Self Portrait, now in the National Portrait Gallery (London), the artist depicts himself alongside an oversized insect.

Tunnard was given a show at the Guggenheim Jeune gallery in 1938. In her autobiography, Peggy Guggenheim writes that “His color was exquisite and his construction magnificent” and that “I was happy to think that I had discovered a genius.” She bought a large work from the exhibition titled PSI, currently in the Guggenheim Collection, Venice.

Tunnard’s work, along with that of painter Graham Sutherland, was loosely termed British Neo-romanticism, continuing the tradition of British landscape, but with a modern awareness. In later life he became interested in space travel and entomology, and he depicted satellites and lunarscapes in his paintings.

Interest in his work diminished after his death in 1971. In 2000, there was a centenary exhibition at Durham University.

A major retrospective at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester in Spring 2010 entitled ‘John Tunnard: Inner Space to Outer Space’, was curated by Simon Martin and explored the themes of abstraction, music and surrealism, nature and landscape, and science and space travel in his work.

John Tunnard, ARA (1900-1971), Flood Tide, 1946


£ click for price and more information

Pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper
14½ x 21½ in (36.5 x 54 cm)
Signed, numbered w 20 and dated twice

Collections: Reid and Lefevre, January 1947; With Offer Waterman when sold to the Present owner

Literature: A.Peat and B.Whitton John Tunnard; His Life and Work 1997 (493)

Tunnard worked as a coastguard during The War and the years he spent staring out to sea are reflected in the curved horizon of the composition. The foreground components of the composition, however, are a characteristic blend of the artist’s unique combination of surrealism, abstraction and naturalism.
The independent minded Tunnard resisted formal association with any artistic groups, from the Surrealists in the 1930’s to The Penrith Society of Arts in St Ives in the 1940’s.
His style was influenced by Klee and Miro and from the late 1940’s he was selling regularly to American museums. In 1946 his finances were at a low point and he was obliged temporarily to take the post of art master at Wellington College.

Back to John Tunnard, ARA (1900-1971)