English painter, graphic artist, and designer, he abandoned an apprenticeship as a railway engineer to study engraving and etching, 1921-6, and up to 1930 worked exclusively as a graphic artist. His etchings of this period are in the Romantic and visionary tradition of Samuel Palmer.
In the early 1930s he began experimenting with oils (following a decline in the market for prints), and by 1935 he had turned mainly to painting. His paintings of the 1930s show a highly subjective response to nature, inspired mainly by visits to Pembrokeshire. He had a vivid gift of visual metaphor and his landscapes are not scenic, but semi-abstract patterns of haunting and monstrous shapes rendered in his distinctively acidic colouring (Entrance to a Lane, Tate, London, 1939).
During the war years he was employed as an Official War Artist to record the effects of bombing, and his work matured as he wrestled with the problems of finding a visual surrogate for the devastation and the destruction of man-made things. Writing of Sutherland’s pictures of ruined and shattered buildings, the critic Eric Newton said: they have a bold, crucified poignancy that gives the war a new meaning.’
Soon after the war he took up religious painting, with a Crucifixion (1946) for St Matthew’s, Northampton (he received the commission at the dedication of Henry Moore’s Madonna and Child in this church), and also portraiture, with Somerset Maugham (Tate, 1949). It was in these two fields that he chiefly made his mark in his later career. The Maugham portrait has an almost caricature quality and his most famous portrait, that of Winston Churchill (1954), was so hated by the sitter that Lady Churchill (1885-1977) destroyed it.
Sutherland’s most celebrated work, however, has become widely popular - it is the immense tapestry of Christ in Glory (completed 1962) in Coventry Cathedral. Sutherland continued to paint landscapes-his first love-often inspired by the French Riviera, where he lived for part of every year from 1947. Apart from paintings and graphic art, his work included ceramics and designing posters and stage costumes and decor. He was one of the most famous British artists of the 20th century and received many honours.