Graham Sutherland was born in London. He was apprenticed as an engineer before studying engraving at Goldsmiths College in London. From 1928-32 he taught etching, engraving and book illustration. His real development as a painter dates from the mid 1930s, when he visited Pembrokeshire in the Welsh border country, and began a series of paintings based on landscape and natural forms. In 'moments of vision' he felt that things were taking on a life of their own, and undergoing a metamorphosis from a static, fixed shape, to an undefined, indeterminate form. In his own words, he was fascinated by the 'whole problem of the tensions produced by the power of growth'.
He was appointed an Official War Artist in 1940. The subjects roused by the war - armament factories, shattered masonry, underground mines - all confirm Sutherland in his instinct for a cruel, unapprehending world, and he chose a palette of intense, cold colours to reinforce this impression. After the war, he concentrated on images which made this impression even more forceful, in particular the thorn tree, an obsessive symbol of cruelty.
From the mid 1950s he spent at least half of each year in France, increasingly establishing a reputation as a portrait, as well as landscape, painter. He designed the mural The Origins of the Land for the 1950 Festival of Britain and the vast tapestry Christ in Glory installed in Coventry Cathedral in 1962. He had an enormous impact on the next generation of artists in England. Labelled a Neo-Romantic, Sutherland belonged to no school but was regarded as a master in his own right. His work was shown at the 1952 Venice Biennale and at the 1955 Bienal de Säo Paulo.