Thomas Monnington 1902-1976
Thomas Monnington, born in London, resided at Enborne House Richmond Road Seaford with his parents and older brother between 1909 and 1913. Monnington was a painter, having studied at the Slade School of Art from 1918 to 1923, a Rome Scholar 1923 – 1926, He married his first wife, Winifred Knights, also a Rome Scholar in 1924. He taught at the Royal Academy Schools between 1931 and 1939. In May 1939, he joined the Directorate of Camouflage at Leamington Spa where he worked on camouflage designs for airfields and factories. He also, after a chance meeting with Barnes Wallis, contributed design improvements, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, to a new heavy bomber aircraft then being developed which later became the Avro Lancaster. In 1943 Monnington, who had taken flying lessons before the war, wrote to the War Artists' Advisory Committee, WAAC, complaining of the lack of an aerial perspective among the works WAAC had so far commissioned. In November 1943, WAAC issued Monnington with the first of a series of full-time commissions that saw him flying with a training squadron in Yorkshire and with Mitchell bombers to Germany. The winter of 1944-1945 was spent in the Netherlands amongst the Second Tactical Air Force drawing mobile radar and radio units. The paintings Monnington produced of aerial warfare, and especially those such as Fighter Affiliation from a perspective inside the aircraft, were to be among the most important such images in the WAAC collection.
Fighter Affiliation: Hurricane and Halifax aircraft co-operating in action
When the war ended, Monnington taught at the Camberwell School of Art for four years and then at the Slade School of Art until 1967. He was knighted in 1967. His wife Winifred died in 1947 and he married Evelyn Janet later the same year. He produced little new work until 1953 when he began a three-year commission to paint a fresco in Bristol. Monnington completed the ceiling of the conference hall in the new Council House, Bristol in 1956, with a design symbolizing modern science. Other notable works, including a 'Stations of the Cross' for Brede parish church, followed. Throughout the 1960s Monningtons work became more abstract and often based on geometric designs. Following his appointment as President of the Royal Academy in 1966, he was knighted in 1967. Monnington was the first President of the Academy to produce abstract art and was highly effective in the role doing much to restore the Academy's ailing fortunes. He served as President until his death in London on 7 January 1976.
ARP wardens rescuing casualties from bomb blast
Monnington’s works include decoration in St. Stephen’s Hall Westminster and the Council House for Bristol in 1956. Monnington work has been exhibted in a number of public galleries, including the Tate, British Museum and Imperial War Museum. He was elected Royal Academy in 1938, became its President in 1966 and was knighted in 1967. He is regarded as one of the most effective presidents of the RA. There was a memorial exhibition at the RA in 1977 and at the British School at Rome, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and the Fine Art Society in 1997. 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).
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