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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Eliot Hodgkin

Interior at La Brande,
1962, Eliot Hodgkin

"I like to show the beauty of
things that no one looks at twice."
                                    --Eliot Hodgkin

With some minor exceptions, such as the German artist, Albrecht Durer, artists have always tended to paint "important" stuff. I've always contended that all artists paint only what's important to them, or the people paying them in many cases. But one has to notice before one "sees," and evaluate before one creates art. Somewhere along the line, 99.9999% of all the stuff around an artist gets summarily rejected as not worthy of the artists time, materials, and efforts. Photography has reduced this percentage a little and motion pictures a little more. The ease, simplicity, and low cost of video may have that percentage as low as 99%, but our environment is so rich with stuff the chances of any of it rising to a level of importance as to induce an artist to preserve it for their prosperity or posterity is abysmally low.

Large Leaf 2, (date unknown), Eliot Hodgkin. It looks to have been an agonizing death.
October, 1935, Eliot Hodgkin,
before he discovered tempera.
The British painter Eliot Hodgkin made a career of noticing the inconsequential, seeing it quite minutely, evaluating its relative beauty, then rendering it in tempera (after 1937) with an almost microscopic fidelity few artist have ever matched (or even wanted to). For those familiar with the contrary delicacy of egg tempera painting, his skill and mindset is all the more remarkable. Dating back almost two thousand years, this painting medium consisting of powdered pigment, egg yolk, and just a tad bit of water, is probably the most demanding, least forgiving type of  paint and painting ever devised by man. In fact, so arduous was it that with the advent of oil painting around 1500, it almost died out. Yet, anyone who has ever tried to scrub dried egg yolk off a slippery porcelain breakfast plate quickly understands why Roman paintings in this medium dating back to the time of Christ, continued to stand up quite well.
Gull's Eggs in a Box, 1918 (the date based upon two sources), Eliot Hodgkin.
Yes, he was only fifteen at the time.
Eliot Hodgkin, ca. 1930.
Eliot Hodgkin was born in 1905, in the Berkshire area of England (west of London, where Windsor Castle is located). The Hodgkins were a highly intellectual Quaker family. He was an only child, and based upon his Gull's Eggs in a Box (above), dating from 1918, quite the child prodigy. If the Hodgkin name rings a bell, it's probably because Eliot's uncle, Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, an early advocate of preventive medicine, was also the first to described the symptoms of the cancerous lymphoma disease, which  now bears his name. The Hodgkins were also related to the 19th-century painter and art critic, Roger Fry. The Abstract Expressionist painter Howard Hodgkin is a cousin of Eliot Hodgkin. With branches also bearing educators, architects, historians, politicians, and other British notables, researching such a family tree is an exhausting exercise.
Courageous and Old Victory, 1932, Eliot Hodgkin, one of his last oil paintings.
Red and White Currants, 1959, Eliot Hodgkin
Coming of age in the early 1920s, the handsome Eliot Hodgkin received a proper upper-class British education, first at Harrow, then in London at the Byam Shaw School of Art and at the Royal Academy Schools. During the early years of his career, Hodgkin painted in oils, his first one-man show being in 1936. But his personality was such that he came to detest the slow drying time involve. So, around 1937, at the suggestion of painter and writer friend, Maxwell Armfield, he turned to tempera. These were not the tedious egg tempera of the Early Renaissance masters. By the 1930s such paints were sold in tubes just like oils, and even had just a tiny dab of oil in their formula. Had Hodgkins deserted oils some twenty years later (he lived to be 82, dying in 1987) he might have found acrylics more to his liking.
The Haberdasher's Hall, 8 May, 1945, Eliot Hodgkin.
Hodgkin worked in British Intelligence during the war years.

Max's Baby Shoes, 1946, Eliot Hodgkin
Though there are a smattering of landscapes and interiors in his work (top), even a couple portraits, the vast majority of Hodgkin's paintings would fall within the definition of still-lifes (virtually all his works done in tempera). Highly contrived, almost scientifically arranged, Hodgkin's still-lifes would not be easily confused with those of any other 20th-century artist. You won't find any violins, books, tankards, drooping documents, keepsake stationery, or smoking paraphernalia, such as one might encounter in a Harnett effort cluttering up the still-lifes of Eliot Hodgkin. They're relatively small, their content isolated, their edges crisp and well-lit. There are some flowers, lots of leaves (long dead and newly deceased), seeds, fresh fruit, even a seeming fascination with old bottles arranged in neat rows. One gets the feeling he was a neatness freak and a stickler for details. He married in 1940, fathered a son (Max) in 1941, and painted the baby's tiny shoes in 1946 (above, right). By 1979, Hodgkins was forced to stop painting due to his poor eyesight. In seeing his work, there's little wonder why.

Cathy's Little Bottle Collection, 1977, Eliot Hodgkin.
He also did a slightly smaller still-life about the same time utilizing his pill bottles.


  1. We are really love your creation and always pray to god for more and more art from you

  2. Thank you, it's a labor of love on my part.--Jim