Some artists, usually talented minor figures, get rediscovered every 20 or 30 years, as fashions come and go. Others crop up now and then who never quite seem to have been discovered in the first place. Tom Monnington is one of these. He was well enough known in his life, but more for his work as a teacher, and as the President of the Royal Academy from 1966-1976. After his death, the Academy gave him a retrospective exhibition - the usual presidential send-off - but that was 20 years ago, and outside their walls, he has remained an obscure figure.
He was, by all accounts, a modest man - generous to others, but self- questioning and uncertain of his own abilities. During his life, he rarely showed his work. Since his death, its sheer range - from meticulous life studies to the rigours of geometric abstraction - has made him hard to place. The link, as this new exhibition demonstrates, was his precision.
The strongest work is the earliest, much of it made at the British School of Rome in the early 1920s, a productive nursery for so many English talents between the wars. He worked slowly, making countless figure studies in pencil (many of which are on show here) and little landscape sketches in oil, some of which are among the most poetic English landscapes of their time.
It was in these background studies, rather than his final pictures, that Monnington came closest to his hero - Piero della Francesca. They have a clarity and stillness that is quite chilling. He once said, with typical modesty, "I have never liked what I have done enough to look at it." If he could have seen this exhibition, he might just have changed his mind.
EYE ON THE NEW Sarah Lucas, star of the recent Two Melons and a Stinking Fish and tipped for this year's Turner Prize, is the last of the fashionable Britpackers to have a major London show. Her new sculptures and photographic self- portraits can be seen from today at 196 St John Street, London EC1. Information: 0171-434 2227Reuse content