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Howard
Hodgkin

Discover art for sale. Buy and sell prints & editions online by Abstract artist Howard Hodgkin. Distinct from his contemporaries in the Pop Art movement, Hodgkin forged his own path towards abstraction in 1960s Britain.

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Biography

Abstract Expressionist painter and printer, Howard Hodgkin celebrated British contemporary artist, known for his bold handling of colour. His large-scale paintings and panels, with their bold use of colour and brushstrokes, present a deep emotional significance and subtle figuration that goes beyond the ethereal non-specificity of the North American Abstract Expressionists.

Beginnings

Born Gordon Howard Eliot Hodgkin in Hammersmith, 1932, Hodgkin came from a large family of high achievers. Hodgkin was evacuated to Long Island, New York, for three years during World War II, during which time he took a keen interest in the works of the School of Paris artists at the MoMA. The influence from these artists, in particular, can be seen even in his final works, including For Matisse (2011-2014). He then decided, at the age of just five years old, that he wanted to be an artist. After moving back to the UK, Hodgkin ran away from Eton College in order to focus on his art. He subsequently went on to study at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, and the Bath Academy of Art.

First Paintings

When Hodgkin first began producing paintings during the 1950s, he resisted the draw of Pop Art that was attracting many artists and instead forged his own path. His first exhibition, held in 1962 at Arthur Tooth and Sons in London, was a commercial failure, although his work was often praised by critics. 'His work has none of the drabness which is too frequently associated by modern artists with pretensions to intellect', Edward Lucie-Smith writes '…this is painting to be enjoyed – that is, providing your idea of enjoyment doesn’t rule out the occasional need to think.'

In the years prior to his emergence as an Abstract Expressionist, when he produced works such as Memoirs (1949), Hodgkin’s work took on a more angular form and featured legible figures and landscapes.

Success

During his very long and very successful career, Hodgkin had presentations in many high profile public galleries, from the Barbican to the National Gallery, MOMA and the Irish Museum of Art. Towards the end of his life, he exhibited many times with the Gagosian and Alan Cristea, including his 'Last Paintings' show at Grosvenor Square Gagosian in 2018.

In 1992, Hodgkin’s passion for Indian art led to his being asked to design a mural for the headquarters of Charles Correa’s British Council in India. Hodgkin went on to be awarded the Turner Prize in 1985, an honorary DLitt from the University of Oxford, the Shakespeare Prize of 1997, and the first Swarovski Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon award. In addition, he was appointed a CBE in 1977, knighted in 1992, made a Companion of Honour in 2003, and a Trustee of the National Gallery.

Most Famous Works

A selection of Hodgkin’s works stand out as holding a particularly intimate, object-like quality with impressive fluidity. One example is Rain (1984-89), where the brushstrokes themselves provide a frame for the picture-space, to highlight that the work of art is not a window into an imaginative space but an object to be emotionally engaged with.

Put Out More Flags (1992) demonstrates Hodgkin’s awareness of form and medium. At first, this work appears to be another of his colourful oil paintings. On closer inspection, the viewer can see that it is a print, mimicking the effects of oil paint through clever layering techniques.

Hodgkin’s 1995 series, Venetian Views, has come to be one of his best-loved. It features the same view of Venice, imagined at four different times of the day across different sizes of canvas. Of Hodgkin’s later works, Now (2015-2016) is a perfect example of the brevity that his works cultivated and the speed of production that he began to seek in both his paintings and his printmaking. Though minimalist in its use of colour, this piece still delivers the complexity of his earlier, busier works.

Influences

Hodgkin started buying Indian paintings as a teenager after being introduced to Indian art by his art teacher at Eton. This was the start of a life-long passion for Indian painting and India more broadly. Hodgkin made multiple trips to India during his life and collected paintings avidly, infiltrating his work most obviously in his colour choice. Hodgkin told David Sylvester in 1984 that his ‘main reason for going back to India is because it is somewhere else.’ This suggests that Indian culture represented a form of escapism for the artist, a view that is tied up with the prevailing legacies of British colonialism from the time.

Hodgkin was also influenced by many older artists in Britain like Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, who were loosely associated with abstract movements such as the St. Ives School.

Style & Technique

Although never far from praise, Hodgkin never fitted neatly into any artistic school or group. Many of his works feature minimal brushstrokes or expressionistic colour fields; however, his work is far more representative of real scenes, figures, and objects (that he had obsessed over for years at a time), than the works of other Abstract Expressionists.

W.S. Di Piero wrote: 'By the 1970s he’d developed a shape-shifting abstract style that could, if needed, seductively hint at representation, and his expressionist assertiveness was refined by a lyricism that in an instant could go bold or tender.' Hodgkin guides viewers towards the real-world subjects of his paintings with very matter-of-fact titles, which often include the name of a place or person; for example Mr And Mrs E.J.P (1972-1973), After Dinner At Smith Square (1980-1981), and In The Bay Of Bengal (2017).

Hodgkin turned his hand to other media throughout his career, including the parallel printmaking practice that can be seen in many of his works. His ability to capture a sense of emotional memory made him a favourite with writers such as Julien Barnes and Colm Toibin, but his aloofness and lack of place in the art scene frustrated interviewers and categorists.

Life & Times

Hodgkin’s impressive family tree features Bloomsbury group member Robert Fry, Thomas Hodgkin (who gave his name to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), Luke Howard (who named the different types of clouds), and conductor Sir John Eliot Gardener. His father Eliot also won the Royal Horticultural Society’s gold medal, adding to the family’s collection of accolades. With such lineage, it is perhaps no wonder that Howard Hodgkin is one of the most decorated abstract painters and printmakers of modern times.

Earlier in his life, Hodgkin produced theatrical sets for performances by the likes of the Royal Ballet, and he later designed a commemorative stamp for the Royal Mail to mark the millennium and posters for many recent Olympic Games. Like many during this time in Britain when homosexuality was criminalised, Hodgkin felt pressured into a heterosexual relationship and married Julia Lane in 1955, having two children. Subsequently coming to terms with his homosexuality, Hodgkin left his wife and lived with his partner, Antony Peattie, for 20 years in Bloomsbury, London, until his death.

Last Paintings

Hodgkin died in 2017 on the day his show 'Absent Friends' was hung at the National Portrait Gallery. He died in the middle of a creative streak, painting with long brushes and held upright by his assistants, despite using a wheelchair.

Hodgkin visited India for the last time a year before his death, where he produced six paintings which were displayed at the 'Painting India' show in Hepworth, Wakefield in 2017. In 2018, the Gagosian held an exhibition of more than 20 works entitled Last Paintings, which demonstrated the ultimate progression of Hodgkin’s style. Not only were many of these works produced on wooden panels sourced in India, but they also demonstrate Hodgkin’s bold colour and expression in their most stringent form.

On The Market

The value of Hodgkin’s work has only increased since his death. In 2021, Hodgkin original works, such as Out of the Window (2000) have achieved as much as £650,000 at auction. His printed works, such as the Venetian Views series, continue to reach upwards of £10,000 at auction. His reputation, built on years of critical success, remains a dominant force in the art world and secures his works as reliable investments and valuable additions to any modern collection.