35.5 x 48 cm framed
He worked principally in egg tempera from the 1930s onwards, concentrating on organic objects which might otherwise evade the viewer’s eye and interest. Hodgkin reasoned that his choice of tempera over oil owed to the unique way it permitted him to “express the character of the objects that fascinate me.” He argued that with oil paint, he would not be able to achieve the same detail without compromising the surface of his paintings, and that his process would be interrupted by waiting for the paint to dry. Nevertheless, it was not only these technical practicalities that hastened Hodgkin’s unfaltering dedication to tempera, it was also a conscious stylistic choice. He wrote, “I try to show things exactly as they are, yet with some of their mystery and poetry, and as though seen for the first time (…) perhaps the best medium is tempera, because it combines clarity and definition with a certain feeling of remoteness.” Hodgkin was keen to revise the way that the viewer regarded everyday objects. He saw it as his mission to elevate such humble items as turnips, onions, dead leaves and assorted other objects from the realm of the uninteresting or unattractive. The meticulous detail by which Hodgkin rendered the surfaces of his subjects, often in close-up, continue in turn to encourage the viewer to make a closer inspection of these objects; both within his paintings and in their larger, natural context. In a letter written to Sir Brinsley Ford, (who wrote on the artist) Hodgkin succinctly described his motivation, “I like to show the beauty of things that no one looks at twice.”
A fine example of Hodgkin’s re-viewing of the natural world can be noted during WWII. Whilst working for the Home Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Information, he was commissioned by the War Artists Scheme for his drawings of plants and vegetation growing amongst the debris of urban bomb sites.
Painted in 1957, Black and White Grapes is a fine example of Hodgkin’s still lives. The two bunches of grapes are nestled within cloth bags and sit proudly on a marbled table top. A reflection of the pink cloth in the marble can be seen in the foreground. The orb-like grapes display subtle variations in shape and colour, gleaming white where the light hits them. Hodgkin often returned to his subjects, as he did with the grapes, producing Black Grapes in 1960 (fig.1). The grapes here however, have a more reddish-brown hue to them as opposed to the bluer shade in the 1957 painting.
Arthur Jeffress Gallery, London cat. No 4
Sir Andrew McFadyean 1959
Private Collection, UK
The Arthur Jeffress Gallery, London, 1959 cat. No. 1 Lady McFadyean
Eliot Hodgkin, Painter & Collector, 14 March – 10 April, 1990, cat. no. 38, Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox, London