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John Tunnard was born on May 7, 1900, in Sandy, United Kingdom. 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 become a painter, supporting himself as a part-time design teacher at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. Tunnard showed for the first time at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1931, and exhibited annually with the London Group, of which he became a member in 1934, until 1950.
Tunnard’s first solo show was held at the Redfern Gallery in London in 1933. Most of the works presented depicted landscape views of Cornwall, where the artist and his wife had settled and established a hand-block-printed silk business. During this period, Tunnard began to revive his early interest in natural science, collecting entomological specimens for the Natural History Museum in London and observing the minutiae of nature, which 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 the Gordon Fraser Gallery in Cambridge, which featured works by Max Ernst, Paul Klee, René Magritte, Joan Miró, and others. In March 1939 Peggy Guggenheim gave Tunnard a show at her Guggenheim Jeune gallery 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 the Alex Reid and Lefevre galleries.
The British Council included his work in three exhibitions in Australia and South America between 1940 and 1949, and in 1944 the artist was given a solo 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 the Contemporary British Art exhibition, 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. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1967. In 1971 he was represented in The British Contribution to Surrealism exhibition at the Hamet Gallery in London. Tunnard died on December 18, 1971, in Penzance.