Framed (ref: 4766)
Reciprocity, circa 1970
Tempera on board
36 x 52 in.
R.A 1971 (77); The Fine Art Society, 1997, (162)
Previewing this work in a newspaper interview (Tate archive, source and date not given) Monnington referred to this as only his second picture in two years.This he explained was on account of being “an extremely slow worker” and painting in “a rather old fashioned mixture of eggs, oil and water, which was used by the early Italian painters.”Asked what the finished painting would look like Monnington replied, “it will consist of a lot of squares”.The link that Monnington clearly made with the early Italian painters,not only through the pursuit of perfect proportion but technique demonstrates the underlying continuity in his work.There was no distinction in his mind between figurative and abstract 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).
When the Tate purchased Monnington’s Square Design (1967) he spoke of his abstract paintings as “direct
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”, (letter of 12th June 1968)
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