“To hell with nature!”: Home—Tunnicliffe’s Autobiographical Etchings
When Tunnicliffe was two years old, his father, a former shoemaker, took on a twenty-acre farm near Sutton in Cheshire. Tunnicliffe’s mother was a farmer’s daughter. The Tunnicliffes became tenant dairy farmers. They also bred pigs.
Tunnicliffe’s earliest etchings are largely autobiographical. They record life on the farm – shown in Grazing Cattle, Sutton Lane Ends – and feature members of his family.
The Widow depicts Tunnicliffe’s mother milking a cow. In Christmas Chickens (shown above), his youngest sister Dolly is shown holding a strangled capon. Capons are cockerels that have been castrated and slowly fattened. The practice has been illegal in the United Kingdom since the 1970s.
Tunnicliffe insisted that the ‘best way to know the true shape of any animal is to handle it.’ The work of the sheep doctor offered Tunnicliffe ‘unusual’ views of the animal’s ‘(normally hidden) underside of jaws, chest, and belly.’
In The Stuck Pig (pictured below), Tunnicliffe captures a butcher in the act of sticking (or stabbing). Tunnicliffe and his father hold the pig down. Dolly draws back the animal’s foreleg to keep it still as it bleeds to death. Tunnicliffe was rarely nostalgic in his approach to the countryside. He knew the hardship of farm labour too well to sentimentalise it.