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John Tunnard 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 printed 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.