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Sir Thomas Monnington (1902 - 1976)

Study 2 for Clematis, circa 1959

SKU: 6046

Squared, 

Pencil and chalk on tracing paper

8 3/4 x 6 in. (22.2 x 15.2 cm)

Framed approx. 13 3/4 x 11 in. (35 x 28 cm)
Presentation:
framed

Size:
Height – 22.2cm x Width – 15.2cm

DESCRIPTION

Provenance:
The Artist’s Family
This work was inspired by a Clematis Montana growing at Leyswood. My interest in abstract is in trying to do something more than imitate, Monnington explained in an interview for the Church Times, (30 December 1966): I think it is possible that, through a more abstract approach, one can get nearer to the underlying nature of reality. A still life entitled Clematis – exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1959 (34) – was possibly the point of departure for this more abstract interpretation. This work is closely related to the ceiling of the Mary Harris Memorial Chapel in its colour and construction. Bristol and Exeter were undoubtedly instrumental in Monningtons pursuit of Geometric’ paintings (a term he preferred to Abstracts). When the Tate purchased Monnington’s Square Design (1967) he spoke of his abstract paintings as ‚Äúdirect descendants from my ceiling painting in the Council House, Bristol, which was my first departure from purely representational painting. Since them I have been increasingly interested in the subdivisions of surface areas contained in equilateral rectangels (squares) and rectangles derived from square roots. These two-dimensional mathematical relationships suggest to me dimensions in depth, and provide a discipline which at the present time I find as necessary and interesting as that imposed previously in representational painting… You can cut out the blurb if you wish, but I was trying for my own edification to put into words what I think I have been trying to do in the last ten years‚Äù, (letter of 12th June 1968)

In a gilded frame set onto a white gesso board with gilded outer moulding, glazed.
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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