English painter; born in London in 1903. After studying at the Goldsmiths' School of Art, he concentrated on etching and produced landscapes and illustration of a hallucinatory character. His art then underwent the influence of William Blake and of his disciple Samuel Palmer ( 1805-1881) and of the Surrealists as well. Following a stay he made in the County of Pembroke in 1936, Sutherland's style showed a mark change: Nature had apparently acted as a catalytic agent in bringing about a new and magical concept of art. From that time on, his vision expanded and his work acquired greater expressiveness. He discovered new forms of life, tinted with hitherto unknown colours. Strange vegetable and mineral forms, insects metamorphosed into totems look out from his canvases on to a mental universe teeming with hidden forces. Anxious eyes, endowed with beneficent or malevolent powers, recall masks from Polynesia and the New Hebrides. They take possession of the spectator as their strange message slowly filters into his consciousness. In Sutherland's work, art reaches back to its primal nature: it inspires in man a mixture of fear, joy, and ecstasy. At once sign and symbol, the work of art becomes, in the hands of this sorcerer, a vehicle for cosmic forces.
Sutherland is, without doubt, the leader of the contemporary English school of painting. In 1944, asked to decorate a church at Northampton, he created a Christ on the Cross which makes one think of certain Spanish primitives, of totems, and, again, of the works of such an artist as Grünewald. Following this, Sutherland devoted considerable time to portraits but he refused to allow himself to be carried away by the tradition of superficial brilliance which has characterized the evolution of portrait painting in English art. The head of a man calls forth from him the same qualities of analysis and synthesis as the phenomena of nature. Thus a portrait dominated by a pair of shrewd, cruel eyes, even though painted in accordance with all laws of realism, seems, at times, not very far from belonging to the plant world, the insect world or the reptile kingdom. In 1951 Sutherland was commissioned to paint a large panel for the Festival of Britain on the theme, 'The Origins of the Earth'. In 1952 he represented England at the Biennale in Venice, where he was awarded the acquisition prize of the Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo. His work is well represented in the collections of the Tate Gallery; also, in the Museums of Modern Art of New York and of Paris.