Eliot Hodgkin, duh! (OK I didn't know him either). A surprise hit with my kids, this charming exhibition at Waddesdon Manor re-introduces the celebrated 20th century still life and landscape painter. Well worth the detour to the Coach House.
I zipped up to Waddesdon Manor yesterday in the hope of wangling my kids into Colourscape, the labyrinthian connecting colour tunnels that have enthralled them the last two summers. No room at the inn on that one – it was sold out by the time I rocked up there – so, as an alternative, I bribed my kids to the new ‘Brought to Life: Eliot Hodgkin Rediscovered’ exhibition in the Coach House Gallery on the promise of a scone and marshmallow hot chocolate. (Oh come on, you’d have done the same!).
Eliot who? Yes, well, I have to admit, his name wasn’t tripping off my tongue until yesterday but Hodgkins’ beautifully composed, uncannily accurate still lives of flowers, fruits, even odd boots, and landscapes, are captivating and this exhibition is a concerted effort to put this celebrated artist of the mid twentieth century squarely back into the public consciousness.
Hodgkin mainly worked in oils, and more unusually, tempera (egg white, varnish, vegetable oil and colour pigments), often on an intricate, confined scale. The late great art critic Brian Sewell was a huge fan of Hodgkins, having fallen in love with ‘this strange little painting of dry stalks, dead leave and bursting seed pods’ he saw in the window of a furniture shop. He treasured it until his death in 2015. Others include Lord Rothschild and the Duchess of Devonshire.
The exhibition shows nearly 100 of Hodgkins’ works, many in private collections and not seen publicly including feted paintings such as Four Asparagus, Cow Parsley and Lemons in a Paper Bag. It’s the sort of thoughtful exhibition that (of course) lacks the immediate shiny pizzazz of a Jeff Koons, but I told my kids to just go around the room and stop only at paintings they really loved and that really worked – they really engaged with them, and also loved seeing his paintbrushes and apron. It was all very relatable.
Quite a few of the paintings caused them excitement – Cass particularly loved Broken Bread (above left), a baguette torn into pieces (what can I say, he’s a carbs boy), and Iris chose The Months (see ‘May’ below), a series of twelve intricate compositions, showing the fruit, vegetables, flora and fauna from each month. My favourites too actually.
The exhibition was a surprise hit which was lovely. And now both my children can rattle off exactly tempera technique is, so full marks to me for smug parenting. If that doesn’t deserve a clotted cream scone, I don’t know what does.
‘Brought to Life: Eliot Hodgkin Rediscovered’ (23 May – 20 Oct 2019), Coach House Gallery, Waddesdon Manor, Waddesdon, Aylesbury HP18 0JH.