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He was born on May 7, 1900, in Bedfordshire, England. He graduated with a diploma in design from the Royal College of Art in London in 1923 and for the next four years worked as a textile designer in Manchester. In 1929 he gave up commercial work to become a painter, supporting himself as a part-time teacher of design at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. Tunnard showed for the first time in 1931, at the Royal Academy of Arts and continued to exhibit annually with the London Group until 1950, becoming a member in 1934.
Tunnard’s first one-man show
was held at the Redfern Gallery in London in 1933. Most of the works
presented depicted the landscape of Cornwall, where the artist and his
wife had settled and established a hand block
silk business. Tunnard began at this time to revive his early interest
in natural science, collecting entomological specimens on the moors for
the British Museum of Natural History and observing the minutiae of
nature that provided a source of imagery for his art. Although he never
formally joined the Surrealist movement, Tunnard participated in several
of the group’s exhibitions in the 1930s, including Surrealism, held in
1939 at Gordon Fraser Gallery in Cambridge, which featured works by Max
Ernst, Klee, Magritte, Miró and others. In March 1939 Peggy Guggenheim
gave Tunnard a show at her gallery Guggenheim Jeune in London.
Tunnard enlisted as an auxiliary coast guard in 1940 and served for the duration of the war. During this period he participated in group shows in London at the Redfern Gallery, the Zwemmer Gallery and Alex Reid and Lefevre. The British Council included his work in three survey exhibitions in Australia and South America between1940 and 1949, and in 1944 the artist was given a one-man show at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York. Tunnard resumed teaching design in 1946 at Wellington College, Berkshire, and two years later at Penzance School of Art, Cornwall. Also in 1946 he was featured in 'Contemporary British Art', which travelled to the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, and the City Art Museum, St. Louis. In 1949 his work was shown at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris. The artist designed a mural for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the following year he showed at Durlacher Brothers in New York, where he would have a solo exhibition in 1960.
Tunnard was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1967. In 1971 he was represented in The British Contribution to Surrealism at Hamet Gallery in London. The artist died that year on December 18. In 1977 a touring show travelled from the Royal Academy, to Newlyn Art Gallery via Kettles Yard and a number of other venues.
John Tunnard is an
individualist. For more than thirty years he has preferred to cut a path
of his own through the jungle of modern art. He began his career, as a
designer in the textile industry, and textiles is a craft that imposes
on the artist a high degree of stylisation, even of abstraction. He had
further disciplinary experience as a teacher of design at the Central
School of Arts and Crafts in London. Then in 1930, Tunnard left London
and moved to Cornwall, where together with his wife he set up a workshop
for hand-blocked printed silks. As soon as he was settled in this new
environment he began to paint.