Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Sir Thomas Monnington (1902-1976)   BIOGRAPHY

Study for roundel, Bristol ceiling, circa 1953
Passe-partout (ref: 3373)

Coloured pencil and white and black chalk on paper

15 1/8 x 14 3/4 in. (38.5 x 37.5 cm.)

(17 1/4 x 16 3/4 in. (43.5 x 42.5 cm.) framed)


The New Bristol Council House, designed by Vincent Harris, was built in the early 1950s. Monnington was commissioned to paint the ceiling in 1953; it was unveiled in 1956. The ceiling, measuring 95 x 45 feet (over 4000 square feet), is amongst the largest post-war decorative schemes in Europe. Monnington insisted on painting in the Renaissance manner - directly onto wet plaster. The colours were ground and mixed with an emulsion of eggs, chalk and water - Bristol's Clerk of the Works delivered baskets of eggs daily.

'A suggestion by the Bristol city fathers that the subject should be "something connected with the Merchant Adventurers" fell on deaf ears. Monnington determined that his design should instead commemorate those scientific achievements which future Bristolians would associate with the mid-twentieth century, and which he himself had become excited by over the last twenty years: modern nuclear physics; electronics, which had enthralled him first in the shape of radio masts and later in radar equipment; aeronautics, whose laws he had begun to comprehend during the war; and biochemistry, where enlarged photographs of recent research revealed amazing quasi-abstract patterns.' Judy Egerton, Monnington, Royal Academy, 1977, p. 13.

Monnington's design bears similarities to the paintings of the Italian futurist Balla, but is underwritten by his deep admiration for Piero della Francesca, constructed as it is along the lines of the Golden Section. There are also stylistic similarities with the sculptures of Monnington's neighbour, Professor Gerrard. A number of drawings by Monnington for the ceiling are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Science Museum and Bristol City Art Gallery. 

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

See all works by Sir Thomas Monnington