Rowland or Roland Suddaby was born in Kimberworth, Yorkshire in 1912, and after winning a scholarship studied at the Sheffield College of Art from 1926 to 1930, while still working in the steel industry. In 1931, aged 19, he moved to London to attend the Royal College of Art, eventually finding work ornamenting titles for black and white films with a firm in Wardour Street, the then centre of the British film industry. After getting married, still very young, and struggling to make a living, his work was noticed by the art collector Rex Nan Kivell (1898-1977). He consequently had a successful show at the Wertheim Gallery, London, in 1935 and a series of shows at the Redfern Gallery, London, from 1936. From 1943 he also exhibited at the Leger Gallery, London and at the New English Arts Club. In 1940 he was one of the artists chosen to produce work for the Recording Britain project (1). In 1939 he moved with his wife Elizabeth and daughter Joanna, to Suffolk, settling near Sudbury to become curator of Gainsborough’s House Museum. After the war, until his death, Suddaby remained an active member of the local artistic community, co-founding in 1946 the Colchester Arts Society and exhibiting in the Society’s first exhibition at Colchester Castle in 1946. Suddaby’s work was acquired by many prominent collectors and public institutions, including the V&A. There are 24 examples in the Government Art Collection, almost all painted about 10 years before the Road to Church Farm, Stansfield. Like John Nash (q.v.) and Edward Bawden, Suddaby also worked in the design world, producing textiles and furnishings, posters for Shell and prints.
Stansfield is a village south-west of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, which has a flint-fronted Anglican church dating back to the Norman Conquest, seen in the distance of this picture. When Suddaby moved to Suffolk, he found the landscape and coastline of East Anglia particularly inspiring and although he sometimes painted views of Cornwall and the North Yorkshire moors, he mainly painted the North Essex countryside and the Blackwater estuary. These are the trademark pictures for which he is now mostly known. His paintings of Suffolk fields, ponds and trees have a spontaneous vitality and richness of colour and his use of black inks, shifting skies and tree lines make his compositions instantly recognisable. His work, especially of the 1930s, has sometimes been compared to that of Christopher Wood (1901-1930), the British Post-Impressionist artist who met Picasso and Jean Cocteau at the Académie Julian in Paris, and was encouraged by Augustus John. Suddaby’s vigorous and atmospheric pictures of that period certainly belong to that tradition (2). In the 1940s and 1950s, Suddaby also painted still lifes in both watercolour and oils. These became very popular, especially at the Leger Gallery and Colchester Art Society. By the 1960s, however, Suddaby had become increasingly interested in abstraction and started to experiment with watercolour and gouache (3). These paintings, which he painted for his own pleasure, were only discovered after his death but should be seen as very much part of his artistic legacy.
1946, Colchester Art Society (first exhibition), Flowers in a Lustre Jug and Landscape at Cornard, Suffolk
1961, The Minories, Colchester, Road to Church Farm, Stansfield
BENEZIT, Dictionary of artists, Paris: Grϋnd, 2006, vol. 13, p.507
BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 1159
COOK, Olive, Suffolk…Drawings and water-colours by Rowland Suddaby, London: Paul Elek, 1948
(1) Proposed in 1939 by Sir Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery, artists were to “record the changing face of Britain in anticipation of the large scale destruction of the war and the ravages caused by the sinister hands of improvers and despoilers.”
(2) See self-portrait painted in 1936, at Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury, Suffolk.
(3) Suddaby never signed these paintings, which were not destined to be exhibited