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Phantom, 1959

60.00cm wide (23.62 inches wide)
38.00cm high (14.96 inches high)
Description / Expertise
Signed, numbered and dated 'John Tunnard/TRG 26. 59.' (lower right)
Titled, signed and dated verso

Pencil, black ink, coloured crayon, watercolour and bodycolour
Watercolour verso
Entered into Tunnards’s ledger as TRG 26 (Trethinick Gouache), with the Greek letters Theta Theta.

PROVENANCE : Private Collection, Dr Brian Whitton, purchased 1996. Private collection of a Director of Thomas Agnew, London.

LITERATURE : A. Peat and B. Whitton, John Tunnard Life and Work, p. 190, no. 705.

EXHIBITED : McRoberts & Tunnard Gallery, John Tunnard, November-December 1959, no. 43.
Durlacher, New York, John Tunnard, November 1960, no. 14.

University of Durham, Grey College, John Tunnard, September-November 2000, no. 57, as 'Chenue'.

Study Gallery, Poole, Dorset Quiet Waters. Prunella Clough, Jeremy Gardiner, Peter Joyce, John Tunnard, April - June 2002, as 'Chenue'.

Sheet Length 55.9 cm., 22 in., Height 38.10 cm., 15 in., In a silvered moulded frame.
Frame Length 82 cm., 32 1/8 in., Height 53 cm.,24 ¾ in.,

Phantom acquired the title Chenue while held with Thomas Agnew, but there is no doubt from Tunnard's own records and the inscription on the reverse of the painting that Phantom is the correct title.

Titled, signed & dated verso, with a simple seascape watercolour wash

‘A painting by John Tunnard begins in the order of nature; it traverses the phantasms of the imagination; and then ends in the order of art, which is an analogy of the mystical mathematics of the City of Heaven.’ (Herbert Read)

Phantom is an exceptional picture executed at the height of Tunnard‘s space age’ period. The work was entered into Tunnard's ledger as TRG 26, with the Greek letters theta theta as a personal reminder of the work. Tunnard kept sparse records at this time and only logged what he considered his best works. ‘Every picture to me must be an adventure…It is the excitement of creation and the excitement of perhaps getting down some line that is not merely an accepted piece of composition… I think that each painter should follow his own bent…I don’t think that a school of painting should be formed consciously’. John Tunnard

Phantom was shown at the the McRoberts & Tunnard Gallery one man show as No 43 alongside 31 gouaches and 18 oils. The show was very successful, David Nicholson (Arts News & Review) commented ‘ Tunnard’s name is not as familiar as the merit of his work warrants for here is a very arresting talent indeed. I predict that the impact will be most gratifying to all concerned with this new venture. Certainly all the ingredients of a success d’esteem are present.. In short, this is an exhibition of major impact and importance’.

Phantom was also shown at the Durlacher exhibition in 1960, no 14. Durlacher, one of the iconic dealers in 20th century art, sold important drawings and paintings to American museums and collectors and contributed to such significant collections as the Sachs collection, the Widener collection, the Frick, the Fogg, and the Cleveland Museum, among others. ‘His work appears to have gained a sensuous richnesss and a wider range of colour. He has drawn his subjects from an inner vision rather than from his environing world. Yet he has never lost touch with this outer world; even if it does not furnish him with themes his intense observations of it enhances his themes with response to visual experience. It is the felicitous blending of inner poetic vision with a dispassionate and active intelligence that gives an inescapable quality to his work… acutely outlines plans… cut by linear patterns suggest a serious preoccupation with complex organization.’ Margaret Breuning, Durlacher Gallery introduction, 1960.

‘In Tunnard’s compositions.. the final effect is that of a dream-landscape, but ‘land’ must imply more that earth, and more than land and sea. The ‘scape’ is the limits of imaginative vision.’ Herbert Read

Phantom was executed in the late-1950’s when Tunnard was exploring vast distances and used imagery relating to outer space as a device to suggest infinity and create a ‘scape’ no longer of this world. ‘ The objects you see in my paintings and which you say do not exist do in fact exist, but in a world of my own. This world of my own is just as natural to me as your world is to you, and possibly at some future date you will encounter these shapes in your everyday experiences. I am often surprised myself when I meet a shape that I have used and have never before experienced in any form.’ In 1959, Michael Canney captured the mood of Tunnard’s new works writing, ‘his shapes are eminently contemporary and this explains the appeal of his pictures to the scientist, engineer and architect…the vast distances in John Tunnard’s paintings seem to herald the space age’

Tunnard was ‘one of the most skilled masters in England in the medium of gouache’ (Herbert Read). Guggenheim also made the comparison that Tunnard’s gouaches were ‘as musical as Kandinsky’s, as delicate as Klee’s and as gay as Miro’s’. Phantom exemplifies Tunnard’s masterful handling of his favoured medium. Within this work he has created surfaces with subtle textures that range from coarse to smooth, pitted to flat and glossy to matt, which as the artist Ivon Hitchens mentioned in a letter to Tunnard, ‘ your paintings.. tempt the spectator to feel the surface with his finger ‘. Tunnard took great pleasure from creating visual effects which belie their methods of creation and these complex surface textures encapsulate the unique quality of his paintings. As shown in Phantom, Tunnard’s technique was fastidious and he took great care over each work, ‘to put any line down badly to me is a crime’.

Phantom is a magnificent example of Tunnard’s great skill as a colourist. The subtle graduation of the blues and whites in particular is remarkable. The filmic rendering of the diluted grey and blue tones is an ingenious device creating an almost translucent layer at the front of the sheet that is so subtle the viewer may not be conscious of it, and which is the viewer’s entry point for creating the enormous sense of depth within the composition and the artist’s final touch. Tunnard also use contrasts in colour to suggest ideas and create oppositions. The brown wall is a contrast to the blue void and suggests earth in opposition to space and a progression from the centre of the earth to outer space.

Although the balance of forms in Tunnard’s work was carefully considered no evidence exists of preparatory drawings. ‘I never know what I am going to put down until I actually start the painting. I work more, I think, like a sculptor than as one generally imagines a painter to work. I generally start by handling the paint….As soon as I started to change this white paper into something else, then it was from that moment that I started to create something out of this particular world of mine…As I have said before, I don’t work to a theory and I don’t know what I am going to put down until I get the paper swimming, so to speak in water and paint.’

In Phantom, the ledge contains the detailed imagery of the work and creates the impression of infinity beyond its edge in which there are relatively few motifs. The moon and triangular space object float in this emptiness and are included to suggest enormity of space. As a contrast the ledge holds many different forms which, through their positioning in relation to each other, create subtle layers of depth. The thin, sharp, white lines at the front radiate backwards into thick, textured arcs which lead the viewer into an empty, wide band/arc which draws the eye up and out of the contained area of the composition into infinity. Tunnard then uses delicate arc stringing moving in opposition to pull the viewer into the emptiness of universal space. As a contrast the wall/earth is positioned at the other end of the composition and creates a barrier/boundary with internal arcs and strange forms, and this acts as a container for the shapes and motifs on the ledge. Tunnard also uses the ellipse/ovals to suggest duality, one being a shadow of the other. The ellipses probably represent a planet, maybe Saturn whose rings are circular, but when seen partially edge on, they appear to be ellipses. The shining ellipse represents the planet at night if seen from earth and the shadow ellipse image in daytime. Within each ellipse there are subtle patterns and colourings, some of which overlap to re-inforce their connection.

Tunnard was never formulaic in his output, but the relationship between form and line was central to Tunnard’s work. In Phantom he uses lines and stringing to create dimensions and direction similar to the strings in the constructivist sculptures of Gabo, Hepworth and Moore. They also suggest musical notation and oscillating waves. The arcs in Phantom probably also represent algebraic curves and it is most likely that a mathematical formula is present in the depiction and positioning of the different forms. Unfortunately this is not something that I can decifer, but Tunnard’s work has great appeal to scientists, engineers and architect’s who understand this.

In 1938 Tunnard met Peggy Guggenheim, who had recently opened the gallery Guggenheim Jeune at 30 Cork Street, and who was to become a significant figure for Tunnard, establishing his reputation internationally. In her 1960 autobiography Guggenheim recalls : ‘One day a marvelous man in a highly elaborate tweed coat walked into the gallery. He looked like Groucho Marz. He was as animated as a jazz band leader; which he turned out to be. His colour was exquisite and his construction magnificent. His name was John Tunnard. He asked me very modestly if I thought I could give him a show, and then and there I fixed a date. I was happy that I had discovered a genius.

‘Tunnard’s imagery stems from a dual preoccupation – that with nature and that with man’s own invention. It is immaterial that he images he depticts as pertaining to nature have been heightened, transformed, crystallized and that the man-made creations are soley the result of a conbination of memories and imagination – Tunnard’s usual world is based on the firm foundations of research, experiment and painstaking work. Jasia Reichardt, 1961 review.

‘Tunnard’s work, which the hasty eye so quickly places as a paragraph in art history, has the imagination and feeling which instead appears as a door to a vast, unexplored territory’. Mark Shepherd

‘ His work in not for the hasty eye, but like great poems his best paintings repay many re-readings and with each one his talent becomes more strikingly clear. Peat & Whitton

Durlacher Brothers, New York

Henry Durlacher founded the Durlacher Brothers firm of art dealers in London in 1843, and was later joined by his brother George. The firm dealt principally with porcelain and majolica, eventually adding furniture, tapestries, decorative objects, and paintings to their stock. The brothers Durlacher built a clientele that included such significant collectors as Sir Richard Wallace and J. Pierpont Morgan. R. Kirk Askew joined the firm in the 1920s to manage the newly established New York City branch, which quickly became the more influential of the two branches. George Durlacher, the oldest surviving partner of the originally constituted firm, retired in 1938. Askew became the owner of Durlacher Bros. in 1937 and ran the business from New York until ca. 1969. The Getty Research Institute holds the archives of Durlacher Brothers.

R. Kirk Askew (1903-1974) represented a new generation of scholarly dealers. He trained in art history at Harvard. While there he was a student of Arthur McComb, who in 1929 organized the first exhibition of Italian baroque art in the United States.

Askew sold important Old Master drawings and paintings to American museums and collectors between the 1920s and 1960s. The New York branch contributed to such significant collections as the Sachs collection, the Widener collection, the Frick, the Fogg, and the Cleveland Museum, among others. After World War II, however, the gallery increasingly exhibited and handled the work of modern and contemporary artists, including that of Peter Blume, Walter Stuempfig, Florine Stettheimer, and the estate of Pavel Tchelitchew.

Askew and his wife Constance (neé Atwood and the former wife of Arthur McComb) formed part of the New York art scene; friends and colleagues included Julien Levy, Lincoln Kirstein, Peter Blume, Pavel Tchelitchew and Charles Henri Ford, and other artists and dealers. While Levy served in the U.S. Army during World War II, Askew also managed the Julien Levy gallery.


• British Council (1949) Eleven British Artists. 1949. 12 pp.
• Corbett-Winder, Kate (2003) In Service. House & Garden, March, pp. 103-107.
• Freyberg,Annabel (2002) The World of Interiors, December 2002, pp. 116-121.
• Glazebrook, Mark (1983) 5 Modern British Artists. Privately printed by Mark Glazebrook, London. 30 pp.
• Martin, Simon (2010) John Tunnard. Inner Space to Outer Space. Exhibition, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester.
• McRoberts and Tunnard Ltd (1959) John Tunnard (Introduction by Denys Sutton). McRoberts and Tunnard, Curzon Street, London. 15 pp.
• National Gallery of Victoria (2007) John Tunnard. Modern Britain 1900-1960. Masterworks from Australian and New Zealand Collections. National Gallery of Art, Melbourne. 308 pp., pp. 224-231. (With articles by Ted Gott, Jane Messenger and Mary Kisler)
• Niechcial, Judith (2002) A Particle of Clay. The Biography of Alec Skempton, Civil Engineer. Latheronwheeel, Caithness.
• Peat, Alan and Whitton, Brian A. (1997) John Tunnard. His Life and Work. Scolar Press,Aldershot, Surrey. 224 pp.
• Read, Herbert (1965) Rediscovery – The world of John Tunnard. In: J. Hadfield (ed.) The Saturday Book – 15. Hutchinson, London. 256 pp., pp. 152-165.
• Sutton, Denys (1961) A Propos Blondini. (Review of McRoberts & Tunnard exhibition, 29 November - 22 December 1961). Financial Times, 19.12.61.
• Tunnard, John (S) (1940) The life of a coast guard. Picture Post Vol. 9, No. 10 (December), pp. 9-13.
• Whitton, Brian A. (2011) John Tunnard. His Life and Art from the 1920s to the 1970s. Grey College, Durham University, 3 - 26 June 2011. Henry Dyson Fine Art. 44 pp.
• Whitton, Brian A. and Peat, Alan (2010) Chronology. In: John Tunnard. Inner Space to Outer Space. Exhibition, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 13 March - 6 June. 125 pp., pp.115-123.
• Whitton, Brian A. and Peat, Alan (2000) John Tunnard. A Retrospective. Grey College, University of Durham, 29 September - 22 October. Henry Dyson Fine Art. 19 pp.


• 1900 John Samuel Tunnard born 17 May in Sandy, Bedfordshire 1908 Attended Horton School, Ickwellbury, Bedfordshire until 1913
• 1914 Attended Charterhouse School until 1918
• 1919 Student of design at Royal College of Art until 1923
Drummer in the London Students Jazz Band
• 1923 Designer for Tootal, Broadhurst, Lee in Manchester
• 1926 Artistic adviser to carpet manufacturers H. & M. Southwell, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
Married Mary Robertson
• 1928 Employed by John Lewis & Co. Ltd., London as selector for woven and printed
• 1931 First exhibition with the London Group.
Exhibited at Royal Academy Summer Show for the first time
• 1933 Moved to Cadgwith, Cornwall and began to experiment with abstraction.
First major exhibition (Redfern Gallery).
Started a hand-blocked silk business with his wife
• 1934 Became a member of the London Group
• 1936 Involved in Surrealist exhibition (organized by Julian Trevelyan) in Cambridge
• 1937 Surrealist Section, Artists International Association, London
• 1938 Introduced to Peggy Guggenheim
• 1939 One-man show, Guggenheim Jeune Gallery
• 1940 Enrolled as an auxiliary in H.M. Coastguards at Cadgwith continuing to serve
throughout World War II
• 1946 Taught at Wellington College, Berks
• 1947 Moved to Carn Watch, Bosullow, near Morvah,West Cornwall
• 1948 Part-time teaching post at Penzance School of Art until 1965
• 1951 Moved to London for several months to prepare a mural for The Festival of Britain 1952 Moved to Laura Knight’s old house,Trethinick, at Lamorna, Cornwall
• 1967 Elected A.R.A.. Suffered a stroke
• 1971 Died 18 December

Paintings in Museums and Public Art Galleries Worldwide:

• Arts Council Collection (1)
• Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, (1)
• British Government Art Collection (3)
• British Council Collection (5)
• Ferens Art Galley, Hull (5)
• Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (2)
• Glasgow Museums (1)
• Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry (1)
• Imperial War Museum, London (2)
• Laing Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear (1)
• Leicester Arts & Museums Service (1)
• Leicester County Council Artworks Collection (1)
• Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (1)
• National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (1)
• National Portrait Gallery, London, UK (1)
• Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (1
• Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth (1)
• Southampton City Art Gallery (1)
• Tate Britain, London (7)
• Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (4)
• Wolverhampton Arts & Heritage (1)

• Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, New York (1)
• Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy (2)
• The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1)
• Auckland Art Gallery (2)
• Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (1)

A. Peat and B. Whitton, John Tunnard Life and Work, Aldershot, 1997, p. 190, no. 705.

Private Collection. Purchased from Thomas Agnew, London, as 'Chenue' in 1996.
London, McRoberts & Tunnard Gallery, John Tunnard, November - December 1959, no. 43.
New York, Durlacher, John Tunnard, November 1960, no. 14.
Durham, University of Durham, Grey College, John Tunnard, September - November 2000, no. 57, as 'Chenue'.
Poole, Dorset, Study Gallery, Quiet Waters. Prunella Clough, Jeremy Gardiner, Peter Joyce, John Tunnard, April - June 2002, as 'Chenue'.
gbp 35000.00 (Pound Sterling)
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