Howard Hodgkin

HOWARD HODGKIN  British, 1932-2017

Howard Hodgkin was the greatest British contemporary artist and the last direct link between 21st-century painting and French modernism. A painter of exceptional originality, verve and delicacy of feeling, and a dazzling colourist, he was unique in absorbing every post-war trend — abstraction, pop’s clean graphic lines, minimalism’s austerity — while continuing to explore possibilities inherent in the tight formal structures and interiority of Degas, Vuillard and Matisse. Working within what he called “the classical wall of feeling that Degas has built for us”, Hodgkin called his paintings, “representational pictures of emotional situations”. Since the 1960s, they have looked mostly abstract, evoking rather than describing moments of intimacy, pleasure or embarrassment in signature marks of feathery, ragged, pulsating, swarming dots and broad swaths of paint. 

His conversation pieces of bourgeois experience, introspective, elusive and ambiguous, won little acclaim at first. Back in England by the 1950s, Hodgkin taught, made frequent visits to India, always a source of inspiration, and collected Indian miniatures. In the 1970s, at his first major show at Modern Art Oxford, he was better known as a collector than a painter. In the 1980s that changed; as conceptual art came to dominate globally, Hodgkin’s painterly integrity stood out.

He represented Britain at the Venice biennale in 1984 to stunning effect; critic Robert Hughes wrote that “not since Robert Rauschenberg’s appearance at the Biennale 20 years ago has a show by a single painter so hogged the attention of visitors or looked so effortlessly superior to everything else on view by living artists.” The following year Hodgkin won the Turner Prize; he was knighted in 1992. He had a remarkable late-career, working at ever-larger scale and to bolder degrees of abstraction, and always responsive to cultural currents. 

Hodgkin married and had two sons in the 1950s, but since 1983 his devoted partner was the musicologist Antony Peattie. Their home in Bloomsbury, where Hodgkin converted a former dairy into a luminous studio, was a haven of warmth, fine food and conversation for a wide circle of friends, including many writers.