[1] Charles Tunnicliffe RA, Long-eared Owl, 1955, wood-engraving. Photo: RA © The Artist's Estate

[2] Charles Tunnicliffe RA, The Spotted Sow, c.1925, etching. Photo: RA © The Artist's Estate

[3] Charles Tunnicliffe RA, The Percheron, 1940, wood-engraving. Photo: RA © The Artist's Estate

[4] Charles Tunnicliffe RA, Chinese Geese, 1937, wood-engraving. Photo: RA © The Artist's Estate

[5] Charles Tunnicliffe RA, Solway Company, by 1944, watercolour. Photo: RA © The Artist's Estate

Artist of the Month - August 2017


Charles Tunnicliffe RA (1901-1979)

Charles Tunnicliffe's upbringing on a farm outside Macclesfield in Cheshire had a huge impact on his future career as one of the 20th century's most celebrated wildlife artists. From the age of 14, Tunnicliffe juggled jobs on the farm with his studies at Macclesfield and Manchester Schools of Art. He soon had to make a choice between farming and art when he was offered a place at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London at the age of 19.

Tunnicliffe's years at the RCA, from 1920-23, were another turning point. It was here that he specialised in printmaking, taught by Malcolm Osborne, and began his career as an etcher and a painter. He also met his future wife and fellow student Winnifred Wonnacott. While living in London, Tunnicliffe continued to feed his fascination with nature by making frequent trips home as well as visiting London Zoo and the Natural History Museum. His early works depict the sometimes harsh realities of life on a farm in the early 20th century.

During the 1930s, Tunnicliffe took up wood-engraving, continuing to depict farming and wildlife subjects as in The Percheron [3]. This type of printmaking was particularly well-suited to reproduction for book illustration and Tunnicliffe gained his first commission as an illustrator in 1932 for Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson, which soon became a classic. Over the next 40 years, Tunnicliffe enjoyed a flourishing career in illustration, specialising in books with a natural history theme like Alison Uttley's A Year in the Country (1957), Wandering with Nomad (1946) and the 1953 edition of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Tunnicliffe is also remembered for his appealing illustrations to Ladybird's 'What to look for' series and commercial designs like those he produced for Brooke Bond tea cards.

It was also in the 1930s that Tunnicliffe became especially interested in the study of birds. He developed a process of making 'feather maps', as he described the painstakingly meticulous measured drawings he made from dead birds, and 'memory drawings' of live birds. He combined the knowledge he acquired from both to produce his finished prints and watercolours. He exhibited his work at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition each year and his watercolours proved particularly popular with the public.

In 1954, Tunnicliffe was elected a Royal Academician in the category of printmaker and in 1974 he was honoured with a solo show of his bird studies. Many of these studies were shown at his Royal Academy exhibition in 1974. In 1947 Tunnicliffe and his wife, Winnifred, moved to Malltreath on the remote Isle of Anglesey in Wales and settled there for life. He was a neighbour and friend of the Welsh painter Kyffin Williams who became a great supporter of his work. Williams wrote of Tunnicliffe: 'his work was done for love: love of birds and of animals, of the wild flowers on the rocks above the sea, of the wind, of the sun and of the changing season…When the world of art was arguing to decide what was art and what was not, Charles Tunnicliffe just lived and worked'.

Second Nature: The Art of Charles Tunnicliffe RA is in the Tennant Gallery until 8 October 2017.

Coinciding with the exhibition, the Royal Academy has published a catalogue raisonne of Tunnicliffe's prints with text from printmaking experts Robert Meyrick and Harry Heuser.