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
‘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).