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Critical Review

Sir Howard Hodgkin, one of Britain's most prominent post war artists, liked to talk about his art to his viewers as an a representational painter of emotional states. His works are not to be taken as literal representations of different subjects, but rather as attempts to convey through colour and brushstrokes the emotional intensity and immediacy of the artist’s memories.

Venetian Views, a series of four etchings the artist made in 1995, recall Hodgkin’s strolls around the Italian city. Surprisingly, the four prints were made with the same five plates despite being strikingly different in colour, movement, and texture. Each is composed of 16 sheets of paper, making them amongst Hodgkin’s most grandiose and largest works on paper. True to his manner, once printed the artist would go over each work with paint, giving to each print a unique and distinctive feel and complexity.

The series developed from a failed attempt on Hodgkin’s part to visually illustrate Thomas Mann’s important 1912 novel Death In Venice. The story follows the visit to Venice of an ennobled writer who fixates on a young Polish boy he encounters during his stay. This initial project was cast aside by Hodgkin, who decided instead to portray Venice at different stages of the day: Venice (Morning), Venice (Afternoon), Venice (Evening) and Venice (Night).

The exhibition history of the prints is as important and telling of Hodgkin’s talent as their artistic merit. The series was made for Alan Cristea Roberts Gallery, London, who published all of Hodgkin’s works on paper, and was inaugurated in conjunction with one of Hodgkin’s most important retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Regarding the works, Alan Cristea declared that the series “encompasses the artist's vision of Venice as a place of transience and beauty.” To this day, Venetian Views are in possession of the Tate Gallery in London, the MoMA in New York and the Yale Centre for British Art, New Heaven, which acquired them in 2006.

Why is Venetian Views so important?

The four etchings comprised in the series Venetian Views are amongst the most critically acclaimed and sought-after works of British painter and printmakers Sir Howard Hodgkin. Since they were first exhibited in 1995 at Alan Cristea Roberts, London, these works have travelled around the world, featuring in museum exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London and the Yale Centre for British Art in New Heaven, as well as in commercial galleries.

The prints represent different views of the Italian city at different times of the day, and attempt to capture the fleeting and ephemeral reflections of light on the water surface in Venice. Together with his As Time Goes By, the prints are amongst Hodgkin’s biggest works, each print being made out of 16 separate sheets of paper. Additionally, the mixture of printmaking and painting, which characterises Hodgkin’s printmaking practice, distinguishes these works in the history of British printmaking for their complexity.

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