Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938
Untitled, 1938

JOHN TUNNARD (1900-1971)

Untitled, 1938

1938 British

Offered by Lucy Johnson

£25,000 gbp
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Ink, charcoal and gouache
Sketch verso

Probably part of a series that Tunnard titled ‘Drawing ‘(in spite of mixed media) in 1938

Sheet Height 26.5 cm., 10 ½ in., Length 37 cm., 14 5/8 in. In an ebonised, moulded frame
Frame Height 50 cm., 19 ½ in., Length 60.5 cm, 20 ¾ in

‘ His gouaches... were as musical as Kandinsky's, as delicate as Klee's, and as gay as Miro’s’ (Peggy Guggenheim)

The 1930s were a period of growing success for Tunnard, and by the end of the decade he was a fully established presence in the modern art scene. In 1933 he and his wife had settled in Cadgwith in Cornwall where for a time they supplemented their income by designing and producing printed silks. He had been showing with the London Group every year since 1931, and also had a first exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1933. The language of art was changing and Tunnard experimented with a range of abstract styles and approaches influenced by Klee, Miro and the constructivists.

‘ I think that I was influenced, most certainly influenced by other abstract painters…. Who were older than I…Joan Miro most certainly and Paul Klee, but possibly as much in respect for their technique as anything else. I think it is most important to have a good technique. To put any line down badly to me is a crime…..

Certain paintings of 1937 such as Bird and Composition (below) clearly illustrate Miro’s influence on Tunnard’s work. Untitled also shows this influence.

..I started certainly as a representational painter and moved through various phases of representationalism. First, I suppose, I was interested in merely trying to put down what I saw or thought I saw. Then, after that, I was more interested in merely trying to put down what I saw or thought I saw. Then, after that, I was more interested in the dramatic content of the landscape or whatever it was that I was painting, and then, more particularly, not so much with the literary dramatic content but with the geometrically dramatic content but with the geometrically dramatic content. By that I mean the dramatic movement of roads, of ruts sweeping into farmyards, of the lines of telegraph poles or the sweep of railings, and these I found myself exaggerating to get the geometrically dramatic. Of course, I go to the stage, when confronted with a landscape, I felt that I could not be bound by the things that I saw, and naturally the only thing to do was to invent. As soon as I started inventing I found that it was so much more exciting, and that inventing came gradually into what is called non-representational painting. ‘ Tunnard’s account of his stylistic transformation in an interview in 1944.

In 1938 Tunnard met Peggy Guggenheim, who had recently opened the gallery Guggenheim Jeune at 30 Cork Street, and who was to become a significant figure for Tunnard, establishing his reputation internationally. In her 1960 autobiography Guggenheim recalls :

‘ One day a marvellous man in a highly elaborate tweed coat walked into the gallery. He looked like Groucho Marx. He was animated as a jazz-band leader; which he turned out to be. His colour was exquisite and his construction magnificent. His name was John Tunnard. He asked me very modestly if I thought I could give him a show, and there and then I fixed a date.’

This show, in March-April 1939, was a success, and Guggenheim herself bought one of the paintings, Psi, now in the Guggenheim collection.

Guggenheim reminisced :

‘ During this exhibition, which was a great success from every point of view, a woman came into the gallery and asked, ‘ who is John Tunnard ? Turning three somersaults, Tunnard, who was in the gallery, landed at this lady’s feet, saying, ‘ I am John Tunnard’/ At the end of the show, I, amongst many others, bought an oil painting with the extraordinary title Psi in green letters. Alfred H Barr of the Museum of Modern Art in New York admired it so much when he saw it years later that he wanted to buy it for the museum, but I would not part with it and he had to find another one instead.’

By 1938 Tunnard was still absorbing influences but a confident synthesis was emerging. He had evolved a sound and personal technique, producing works with smooth surfaces with illusions of coruscations and texture, he was known as ‘texture Tunnard’ according to one of his students. Also at this period another element, two-dimensional sculptural motifs, related to the Constructivist movement and the sculpture of Alexander Calder emerges, a reviewer in 1939 referred to him as ‘the Heath Robinson of the Constructivist movement’ .

From the late-1930’s onwards Tunnard blended objective aspects of the natural landscape, the flora and fauna of his surroundings, within his own fantasy landscape. This is evident in Untitled where the veined leaf or feather seemingly blown by the wind, and other symbols of veining/feathering are dominant but soft and gentle. At the same time he is exploring illusory space, which becomes more dominate in later works such as Fulcrum below. The strings connect the main elements of the composition and create tension between them.

Untitled, is a fine example of Tunnard's work of this period, which saw him embracing full abstraction for the first time, though never moving away from the inspiration of nature and the material world. Untitled has the ruled lines and geometric construction developed around this time which would be characteristic of Tunnard's work throughout his subsequent career. Its motifs, while abstracted, are like those of Psi and other contemporary works such as Fulcrum, 1939 (Tate) related to natural forms such as the feather, and to mechanical structures and the instruments of science and geometry. Tunnard achieves in this work a luminosity of colour and clarity of line which convince of his particular affinity with gouache as a medium


• British Council (1949) Eleven British Artists. 1949. 12 pp.
• Corbett-Winder, Kate (2003) In Service. House & Garden, March, pp. 103-107.
• Freyberg,Annabel (2002) The World of Interiors, December 2002, pp. 116-121.
• Glazebrook, Mark (1983) 5 Modern British Artists. Privately printed by Mark Glazebrook, London. 30 pp.
• Martin, Simon (2010) John Tunnard. Inner Space to Outer Space. Exhibition, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester.
• McRoberts and Tunnard Ltd (1959) John Tunnard (Introduction by Denys Sutton). McRoberts and Tunnard, Curzon Street, London. 15 pp.
• National Gallery of Victoria (2007) John Tunnard. Modern Britain 1900-1960. Masterworks from Australian and New Zealand Collections. National Gallery of Art, Melbourne. 308 pp., pp. 224-231. (With articles by Ted Gott, Jane Messenger and Mary Kisler)
• Niechcial, Judith (2002) A Particle of Clay. The Biography of Alec Skempton, Civil Engineer. Latheronwheeel, Caithness.
• Peat, Alan and Whitton, Brian A. (1997) John Tunnard. His Life and Work. Scolar Press,Aldershot, Surrey. 224 pp.
• Read, Herbert (1965) Rediscovery – The world of John Tunnard. In: J. Hadfield (ed.) The Saturday Book – 15. Hutchinson, London. 256 pp., pp. 152-165.
• Sutton, Denys (1961) A Propos Blondini. (Review of McRoberts & Tunnard exhibition, 29 November - 22 December 1961). Financial Times, 19.12.61.
• Tunnard, John (S) (1940) The life of a coast guard. Picture Post Vol. 9, No. 10 (December), pp. 9-13.
• Whitton, Brian A. (2011) John Tunnard. His Life and Art from the 1920s to the 1970s. Grey College, Durham University, 3 - 26 June 2011. Henry Dyson Fine Art. 44 pp.
• Whitton, Brian A. and Peat, Alan (2010) Chronology. In: John Tunnard. Inner Space to Outer Space. Exhibition, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 13 March - 6 June. 125 pp., pp.115-123.
• Whitton, Brian A. and Peat, Alan (2000) John Tunnard. A Retrospective. Grey College, University of Durham, 29 September - 22 October. Henry Dyson Fine Art. 19 pp.


• 1900 John Samuel Tunnard born 17 May in Sandy, Bedfordshire 1908 Attended Horton School, Ickwellbury, Bedfordshire until 1913
• 1914 Attended Charterhouse School until 1918
• 1919 Student of design at Royal College of Art until 1923
Drummer in the London Students Jazz Band
• 1923 Designer for Tootal, Broadhurst, Lee in Manchester
• 1926 Artistic adviser to carpet manufacturers H. & M. Southwell, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
Married Mary Robertson
• 1928 Employed by John Lewis & Co. Ltd., London as selector for woven and printed
• 1931 First exhibition with the London Group.
Exhibited at Royal Academy Summer Show for the first time
• 1933 Moved to Cadgwith, Cornwall and began to experiment with abstraction.
First major exhibition (Redfern Gallery).
Started a hand-blocked silk business with his wife
• 1934 Became a member of the London Group
• 1936 Involved in Surrealist exhibition (organized by Julian Trevelyan) in Cambridge
• 1937 Surrealist Section, Artists International Association, London
• 1938 Introduced to Peggy Guggenheim
• 1939 One-man show, Guggenheim Jeune Gallery
• 1940 Enrolled as an auxiliary in H.M. Coastguards at Cadgwith continuing to serve
throughout World War II
• 1946 Taught at Wellington College, Berks
• 1947 Moved to Carn Watch, Bosullow, near Morvah,West Cornwall
• 1948 Part-time teaching post at Penzance School of Art until 1965
• 1951 Moved to London for several months to prepare a mural for The Festival of Britain 1952 Moved to Laura Knight’s old house,Trethinick, at Lamorna, Cornwall
• 1967 Elected A.R.A.. Suffered a stroke
• 1971 Died 18 December

Paintings in Museums and Public Art Galleries Worldwide:

• Arts Council Collection (1)
• Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, (1)
• British Government Art Collection (3)
• British Council Collection (5)
• Ferens Art Galley, Hull (5)
• Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (2)
• Glasgow Museums (1)
• Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry (1)
• Imperial War Museum, London (2)
• Laing Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear (1)
• Leicester Arts & Museums Service (1)
• Leicester County Council Artworks Collection (1)
• Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (1)
• National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (1)
• National Portrait Gallery, London, UK (1)
• Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (1
• Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth (1)
• Southampton City Art Gallery (1)
• Tate Britain, London (7)
• Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (4)
• Wolverhampton Arts & Heritage (1)

• Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, New York (1)
• Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy (2)
• The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1)
• Auckland Art Gallery (2)
• Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (1)

John Tunnard, 1938, gouache, miro,
Lucy Johnson

Lucy Johnson
Mailing address: Bartons Lodge
Berry End
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