Stuart Sutcliffe has often been called the “Fifth Beatle,” but in reality he was the fourth.
Stuart Sutcliffe (1940 – 1962) has often been called the “Fifth Beatle,” but in reality he was the fourth.
Sutcliffe met a young John Lennon when they both were studying at the Liverpool College of Art, according to Bill Harry’s “The Beatles Encyclopedia.” Lennon was starting a band with Paul McCartney and George Harrison and recruited Sutcliffe to play bass. At the time, the band had yet to find a permanent drummer or even settle on what they would call themselves. Not long after, they hired Pete Best to play drums, dubbed themselves the Beatles, and in August 1960 departed for Germany and a musical residency at one of Hamburg’s new music clubs.
Hamburg would prove to be a major turning point for the band as a whole and Sutcliffe in particular. While the group honed its musical chops playing all-night shows, and picked up a new style of hair and clothing from Hamburg’s burgeoning art community, Sutcliffe returned to his first love: art.
During the Beatles’ time in Hamburg, Sutcliffe met and became involved with Astrid Kirchherr, a German art student and photographer. The two were engaged in 1960, and in 1961 Sutcliffe left the Beatles to return to art school on a postgraduate scholarship at the Hamburg College of Art. According to visiting professor Eduardo Paolozzi, Sutcliffe “had the right kind of sensibility and arrogance to succeed” and called him “very gifted and very intelligent.”
Sadly, Sutcliffe’s promising career as an artist was cut short by a fatal brain hemorrhage in 1962 at age 21. Some of his existing work has seen renewed visibility through a series of posthumous shows in America and the UK, while other pieces have been acquired by galleries and private collectors. Most famously, two of his pieces hung for a time in the Kenwood home of John Lennon.
Written by Seth Joseph