Sir Thomas Monnington (1902-1976):
Design for Bristol Council House ceiling, circa 1953
Framed (ref: 114)
Inscribed on the reverse, 'working study'
Tempera over pencil on a gesso ground,
30 x 76 in. (76.2 x 193 cm.)
In a narrow period black painted wedge shaped frame.
Provenance: Lady Monnington, thence by descent.
Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1956, Sir Thomas Monnington; Fine Art Society, 1997 (129).
Literature: Judy Egerton, Sir Thomas Monnington, Royal Academy, 1977, p.13; Paul Liss, Thomas Monnington, Fine Art Society, 1997, pp.21-2; British Murals and Decorative Painting 1920-1960, Sansom & Co, 2013, pp.310-32
The New Bristol Council House, designed by Vincent Harris, was built in the early 1950s. Monnington was commissioned to paint the ceiling in1953; it was unveiled in 1956. The ceiling, measuring 95 x 45 feet (over 4000 square feet), is amongst the largest post-war decorative schemes in Europe. Monnington insisted on painting in the Renaissance manner - directly onto wet plaster. The colours were ground and mixed with an emulsion of eggs, chalk and water - Bristol's Clerk of the Works delivered baskets of eggs daily.
'A suggestion by the Bristol city fathers that the subject should be"something connected with the Merchant Adventurers" fell on deaf ears.Monnington determined that his design should instead commemorate those scientific achievements which future Bristolians would associate with the mid-twentieth century, and which he himself had become excited by over the last twenty years: modern nuclear physics; electronics, which had enthralled him first in the shape of radio masts and later in radar equipment; aeronautics, whose laws he had begun to comprehend during the war; and biochemistry, where enlarged photographs of recent research revealed amazing quasi-abstract patterns.' Judy Egerton, Monnington, Royal Academy, 1977, p. 13.
Monnington's design bears similarities to the paintings of the Italianfuturist Balla, but is underwritten by his deep admiration for Piero della Francesca, constructed as it is along the lines of the Golden Section. There are also stylistic similarities with the sculptures of Monnington's neighbour, Professor Gerrard. A number of drawings by Monnington for the ceiling are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Science Museum and Bristol City Art Gallery. This important preparatory tempera study is one of two made by Monnington, the second of which is in a private collection (London).