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Painting `too bad for 007` comes in from the cold

21-Apr-2008 • Literary

A painting by one of Britain’s greatest artists, deemed to be too “simplistic” to illustrate a James Bond story, is to be shown in public for the first time - reports The Times.

The work was commissioned by Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, from Graham Sutherland, the country’s most celebrated painter in the 1960s.

The pink, green and blue work, depicting an arrow piercing a heart, has not been seen since it was completed 46 years ago to accompany the story in the first edition of The Sunday Times Magazine.

Fleming’s story, published in February 1962, became the basis for his book Octopussy and The Living Daylights, published posthumously in 1966.

Fleming, who had been foreign manager of The Sunday Times during the 1950s, was asked to write a short story for the new colour magazine.

“He still was the paper’s most bankable asset although he had by then left the staff,” said Andrew Lycett, Fleming’s biographer.

The author had struck up a friendship with Sutherland in 1961 during a summer holiday to Provence, where the artist had a house in the town of Menton.

Fleming returned to London in the September after meeting Sutherland and was asked to write the story, which is about Bond visiting Berlin to protect a defector being hunted by a Russian assassin.

The author contacted Sutherland, who had been one of Britain’s official war artists during the second world war, and told him the story. On his own initiative Fleming commissioned the picture. The artist was offered 100 guineas (£105), well below his usual rate.

It is not known if Sutherland felt the fee was too paltry to produce his best effort. The work did not please the founding editor of the magazine, Mark Boxer, who later became a noted cartoonist.

Boxer rejected the painting, arguing that it lacked the necessary sophistication to accompany the article. Fleming was upset and tried unsuccessfully to persuade Sutherland to have another try.

The rejection was not the only one suffered by the artist. Eight years earlier, when his portrait of Sir Winston Churchill was unveiled at the House of Commons, the then prime minister sarcastically called it “a masterly example of modern art”. Churchill’s wife, Clementine, hated it so much that she later had it destroyed.

Sutherland’s heart painting will go on show on Tuesday as part of a Fleming-themed exhibition at the Fleming Collection art gallery in central London.

The exhibition also includes the cover, which the author designed himself, for the hardback edition of his first novel, Casino Royale.

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