Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) 1949

Graham Sutherland 

Portrait of William Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965), Graham Sutherland
Charcoal and blue ink
20th Century
8 x 6 inches 21.5 x 17 cm
Friends of the Tate Gallery; Sotheby's June 30th 1982 (lot 217); Private Collection
''Only those without physical vanity, educated in painting, or with exceptionally good manners, can disguise their feelings of shock or even revulsion when they are confronted for the first time with a reasonably truthful image of themselves.'' Maugham.

The reputation of Graham Sutherland among British painters of the twentieth century is beginning to achieve its appropriate stature. It has suffered from the vaguaries of fashion, undeservedly, and has attracted criticism because of the social persona of the artist rather than any deficiencies in his painting. Now Sutherland is again recognised as one of the titans of British painting, and an equal of his contemporary and friend Francis Bacon, whose work is well known for displaying a comparable torment and complexity.

Sutherland's early forays into landscape in the 1930s attracted little attention, and it was not until 1940 that he was ''talent spotted'' by Kenneth Clark, who engaged him for the War Artists project. His rise form then was remarkable, although he made no foray into the genre of portraiture. The present work is one of at least thirty two preliminary sketches that Sutherland made for his first portrait commission, a portrait of the writer Somerset Maugham.

The two men met when they were staying on the island of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and Sutherland remarked to a mutual friend that Maugham was the sort of man that he would like to paint. This desire was communicated to Maugham, and despite initial reluctance on the part of the painter, the first sitting took place February 17th 1949. Maugham gave the painter ten sittings of one hour each day, during which Sutherland produced his meticulous sketches. The painting - which Maugham pronounced ''magnificent'' - was then worked up in the studio. The completed work is now in the collection of the Tate Gallery.

The extraordinary honesty of Sutherland''s portrayal is characteristic of his manner, as the search for external truth mirrors what is believed to be an equal self-examination on the part of the artist. This uncomfortable process produces works of uncompromising candour, and Sutherland's most notorious portrait, his Sir Winston Churchill (1954), was taken by its subject as a personal assault effected on behalf of his parliamentary enemies, and destroyed after his death by his widow.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.