Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Sir Thomas Monnington (1902-1976)   BIOGRAPHY

Study for the Mary Harris Memorial Chapel, 1956
Unmounted (ref: 5718)
Red crayon, chalk and pencil
9 x 29 in. (23 x 74 cm.)


Provenance: Evelyn Monnington;
 Literature: British Murals & Decorative Painting 1920-60,
Samson & Co, 2013, pp.310-325

The Mary Harris Memorial Chapel of Holy Trinity was
designed by Vincent Harris R.A. (architect of the Bristol
Council House) in memory of his mother. He commissioned
Monnington to paint the 112 x 28 ft ceiling in 1956. Monnington’s
assistants Scott Medd and W.B. (Peter) Lowe took 11 months
to execute the designs. Lowe recalls: ‘Tom maintained that it
was difficult to draw angels in the twentieth-century, and was
comforted by the enduring qualities of geometry and light.
The design, based on simple geometry, was visualised as
over-lapping webs of transparent light extending into and partly
veiling the mysteries of space’.
‘The ceilings at Bristol and Exeter have matured well – unlike the
earlier St Stephens Hall – and can safely be hailed as twentiethcentury
masterpieces, and the studies for them, prepared with the
precision and patience of a master, appear today both strong
and vital.’ (Peyton Skipwith, Thomas Monnington, published by
Paul Liss in association with The Fine Art Society, 1997, p.9.)

Monnington at his easel 

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

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