Tunnicliffe was born in 1901 in Langley, Macclesfield, England, and spent his early years living on a farm in nearby Sutton, where he saw much wildlife. As a young boy he attended Sutton St. James’ C.E. Primary School and he went on to win a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.
In 1947 he moved from Manchester to a cottage called Shorelands at Malltraeth, on the estuary of the Afon Cefni on Anglesey, where he lived until his death in 1979.
Tunnicliffe worked in several media, including watercolour painting, etching and aquatint, wood engraving, woodcut, scraperboard (sometimes called scratchboard), and oil painting.
Much of Tunnicliffe's work depicted birds in their natural settings and other naturalistic scenes. He illustrated Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter. His work was also used to illustrate Brooke Bond tea cards and as a result was seen by millions of young people in the United Kingdom during the 1950s and 1960s. He also illustrated a number of books including the Ladybird Books. His work was characterised by its precision and accuracy, but also the way that he was able to portray birds as they were seen in nature rather than as stiff scientific studies.
From March 1953, he painted many of the cover illustrations for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds's (RSPB) magazine Bird Notes, and several for the later Birds magazines. Two of the originals are on long-term loan to the gallery at Oriel Ynys Môn, but in 1995 the RSPB sold 114 at a Sotheby's auction, raising £210,000; the most expensive being a picture of a partridge which sold for £6,440.
At his death, much of his personal collection of work was bequeathed to Anglesey council on the condition that it was housed together and made available for public viewing. This body of work can now be seen at Oriel Ynys Môn (The Anglesey Gallery) near Llangefni.
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