Charles Tunnicliffe 1901 – 1979

The fourth in a seasonal series of short entries featuring snow.
Today’s subject is Charles Tunnicliffe; Etcher, engraver and painter, whose principal subject was bird life and the natural countryside.

thumbnail of Company of Whitethroats
Company of Whitethroats” ( Please click these images to enlarge them ).

Charles Tunnicliffe RA OBE
1901 – 1979

Charles Tunnicliffe was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire. Known primarily for his depiction of birds and other wildlife, notably illustrations for Tarka the Otter. He is widely regarded as the greatest UK wildlife artist in modern times.

After studying at the Macclesfield and Manchester Schools of Art he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, gaining his teaching diploma and a further scholarship to study in the RCA’s new Etching and Engraving School. He stayed on in London to develop a career as an etcher and engraver, producing some of his finest etchings during this time. In 1928 he returned to Macclesfield, earning a living mainly from commercial artwork, much of it for the farming industry.

He was elected A.R.E. in 1929 and R.E. in 1934.

He was a regular contributor to the Royal Academy and was elected as an associate in 1944, becoming a Royal Academician in 1954.Sir Kyffin Williams encouraged Charles to show his personal reference collection of measured drawings at the R.A. in 1974 – the exhibition was a great success.

Tunnicliffe moved from Cheshire to Anglesey in 1947 where he lived until his death in 1979. He believed strongly in observing and sketching direct from nature, especially around Cob Lake, the Cefni Estuary, South Stack Cliffs, Llyn Coron, Aberfraw, Cemlyn, then when back at Shorelands spending many hours creating a superb set of sketchbooks full of accurate and colourful ‘memory drawings’.

These sketchbooks are works of art in themselves and are now kept as part of the Tunnicliffe Collection at Oriel Ynys Môn, along with his measured drawings and other examples of his work – including original wood engraving blocks, etchings, watercolours, oil paintings, pencil drawings, scraperboards and book illustrations.

The RSPB awarded him its Gold Medal in 1975 and he was also honoured with an OBE in 1978.

His work hangs in numerous public galleries, while in Macclesfield’s West Bank Museum a room has been dedicated to his work. A Charles Tunnicliffe Society exists to maintain his legacy

(via Gateway Gallery)

Tunnicliffe engraving
Tunnicliffe engraving, with his wife Winifred looking on.

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Grey Partridges
Another chilly scene, that also shows Tunnicliffe’s mastery of pattern and layout design.

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“Ladybird” Books

Tunnicliffe illustrated many of the Ladybird series of childrens books, which sold in millions.

Here are some links to sites with numerous pictures by Tunnicliffe:
and 3) The Charles Tunnicliffe society website:
A well meaning website that reflects many aspects of Tunnicliffe’s output, but small, postage stamp size images, daft (but futile) impediments to right clicking and yellow backgrounds. Yes. An artist’s homage site with YELLOW backgrounds.
What I find especially galling, given Tunnicliffe’s mastery of so many graphic arts, is the use of COMIC SANS for all the text. Pur-lease!


3 thoughts on “Charles Tunnicliffe 1901 – 1979”

  1. “Whitethroats” should be Whitefronts.

    Good to see you posting on Tunnicliffe.

    I think his best work was the wood engravings he did for Henry Williamson’s books in the 1930s. Of his later work, “Shorelands Summer Diary” is outstanding.

    There is a good biography by Ian Niall, “Portrait of a Country Artist”, with plenty of pictures. If one wanted just one Tunnicliffe book, this is probably the one to get.

    There are two volumes of selections from his sketchbooks, “Sketches of Bird Life” and “A Sketchbook of Birds”.

    He regularly made detailed, measured life-sized paintings from dead birds which were brought to him – over 300 in total. 63 of these are printed in a book called “Tunnicliffe’s Birds”. Somebody ought to publish the whole set. They are comparable to Audubon’s paintings, but without the plants or the “natural” poses.

  2. I agree with above that the whole set of the measured drawings be published. I also think more of the sketchbooks be available to view instead of being stuck behind closed doors. There used to be a push button screen viewer at oriel yns mon that had allthe sketchbooks copied and what a wonderful thing it was despite being low quality images. I hope all of CFTs work will be digitised and able to be viewed by all. Thats what he would have wanted.

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