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Sir Thomas Monnington (1902 - 1976)

Geometric Study, circa 1966

SKU: 3370

Coloured pencil and black and white chalk on tracing paper, 6 3/4 x 7 7/8 in. (17 x 19.8 cm.)

(8 5/8 x 9 3/4 in. (22 x 24.8 cm.) framed)

Presentation:
passe-partout

Size:
Height – 17cm x Width – 19.8cm

DESCRIPTION

Monnington’s studies for his ‘Geometric Paintings’ (as he preferred to
call them) are works which he crafted meticulously. He frequently
reworked the same design over and over again before producing a version
in tempera. ‘I do feel that as President of the R.A. I should show at
least one painting there a year .. I take a long time to resolve a
painting problem. I take a year to do one painting because I make
innumerable studies preparing the way’ (Sunday Express, 19 Oct 1969).

Monnington was significantly the first President of the Royal Academy
to paint abstracts, and inevitably his work was not always well
received:

‘The President is indeed a charming man but his work is an
embarrassment. I can only recommend it to some linoleum manufacturer.’
So wrote Terence Mullaly, reviewing the Royal Academy Summer Show
(Daily Telegraph, 28 April 1967)

Unlike his predecessors, Monnington was prepared to throw open to
debate questions about contemporary art. ‘I happen to paint abstracts,
but surely what matters is not whether a work is abstract or
representative, but whether it has merit. If those who visit
exhibitions – and this applies to artists as well as to the public –
would come without preconceptions, would apply to art the elementary
standards they apply in other spheres, they might glimpse new horizons.
They might ask themselves: Is this work distinguished or is it
commonplace? Fresh and original or uninspired, derivative and dull? Is
it modest or pretentious?’ (Marjorie Bruce-Milne, The Christian Science
Monitor, 29 May 1967).
At the same time Monnington was keen to defend traditional values. ‘You
cannot be a revolutionary and kick against the rules unless you learn
first what you are kicking against. Some modern art is good, some bad,
some indifferent. It might be common, refined or intelligent. You can
apply the same judgements to it as you can to traditional works,’
(interview with Colin Frame, undated newspaper clipping, 1967).

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THE ARTIST

Sir Thomas Monnington
Sir Thomas
Monnington
1902 - 1976

Painter, especially of murals. Born in London, he studied at the Slade School in 1918-23 and was Rome Scholar in 1923-26. He married fellow Rome Scholar Winifred Knights in 1924. Among his public works are a decoration for St Stephen’s Hall, Westminster, 1928, and the new Council House in Bristol, 1956. Monnington taught drawing at the Royal Academy Schools, 1931-39, and in 1949 joined the staff of the Slade, whose strong linear tradition marked his own work. Monnington is represented in a number of public galleries, including the Tate, British Museum and Imperial War Museum. He was elected RA in 1938, became its President in 1966 and was knighted in 1967. There was a memorial exhibition at the RA in 1977. Another traveled from the British School at Rome to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and the Fine Art Society in 1997. From the 1940s Monnington lived in Groombridge, Kent; the local landscape inspired much of his post-war work. Monnington was one of the outstanding draughtsmen of his generation. He had a considerable influence as a teacher (Euan Uglow was among his pupils), and was one of the most effective of the twentieth-century presidents of the RA, turning around the Academy’s ailing fortunes. Remarkably he was the first president of the Academy to produce abstract paintings and indeed made no distinction between abstract and figurative art: “Surely what matters is not whether a work is abstract or representative, but whether it has merit. If those who visit exhibitions would come without preconceptions, would apply to art the elementary standards they apply in other spheres, they might glimpse new horizons. They might ask themselves: is this work distinguished or is it commonplace? Fresh and original or uninspired, derivative and dull? Is it modest or pretentious?” (Interview in the Christian Science Monitor, 29.5.67).

Selected Literature: Judy Egerton, Sir Thomas Monnington, Royal Academy of Arts, 1977 Paul Liss, Sir Thomas Monnington, British School at Rome/Fine Art Society plc, 1997

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