Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Sir Thomas Monnington (1902-1976)   BIOGRAPHY

Study for A Commissioner, standing full length, St. Stephen's Hall, Palace of Westminster, circa 1926
Unmounted (ref: 5596)
Pencil and red chalk on tracing paper
20 x 12 in. (50.8 x 30.4 cm)


Provenance: The estate of R Schwabe; thence be descent, inherited by his granddaughters through his daughter.

The English and Scottish commissioners present articles of agreement for the Parliamentary Union of the two countries to Queen Anne at St Jame's Palace in July 1707 was one of eight subjects set by Sir Henry Newbolt for the decorative scheme of history paintings in St. Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster.  The paintings, by eight artists working as a team under a Master Painter, Sir David Young Cameron, were executed in matt oil colours in marble medium.  Orpen was originally scheduled to paint this subject but dropped out.  Cameron invited Monnington, then aged 23, to tackle it instead.  Monnington was the youngest of the team by ten years and his inclusion - despite grumblings from Rothenstein about giving important wall space to untried youngsters, (William Rothenstein, Since Fifty, 1939, p 25), is evidence of his prodigious early reputation.

The finished work is 9 x 15 ft.   Monnington clearly based his composition on Peter Angelis’s Queen Anne and the Knights of the Garter, painted in 1713, (National Portrait Gallery). A small-scale preliminary oil sketch (31 x 44 ¾) was given by Monnington to Cameron, who bequeathed it to the National Gallery of Scotland.  A sanguine study for the head of a nobleman was purchased by the Contemporary Art Society and presented to the British Museum in 1927.

Monnington was working on the Cartoon when visited by Tonks in February 1927; Tonks, Monnington reported to his brother, seemed to like the work very well…. Whatever else he may be, Monnington added, Tonks is a very great critic. 

The final paintings were unveiled on 28 June 1927 by the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

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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