A colour­ful life

Howard Hodgkin’s col­lec­tion up for auc­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENTS -

WHEN HOWARD HODGKIN died in March, aged 84, the Bri­tish art world lost one of its great­est tal­ents. His ex­tra­or­di­nary, lu­mi­nous paint­ings char­ac­terised by bold, liq­ue­fied colour and ab­stract forms, for which he won the Turner Prize in 1985 and a knight­hood in 1992, earned him in­ter­na­tional renown.

What is less known is that he was a col­lec­tor of old things, not just rare Per­sian car­pets and ce­ram­ics from the Ot­toman Empire, but also more every­day ob­jects: flags, chairs, mir­rors, even a quilt made by Vic­to­rian pri­ma­ryschool chil­dren.

‘Howard did not save the money he earned. He bought ob­jects,’ says Antony Peat­tie, a mu­sic writer and Hodgkin’s part­ner of 33 years. Col­lect­ing was a pas­sion and a se­ri­ous business. He kept auc­tion cat­a­logues and a tape mea­sure on his bed­side ta­ble. ‘If he re­ally fell in love with some­thing it was called a “must have” or an MH and marked on the cat­a­logue, and then he tended to go for it.’

Hodgkin kept his paint­ings in his stu­dio and his col­lec­tion in his home (they were next door to each other). And Hodgkin’s home – a ma­jes­tic four­storey Ge­or­gian house, tucked down a side street in Blooms­bury, Lon­don – is a re­mark­able in­sight into his mind. Ev­ery­thing he ever val­ued was kept around him, ar­ranged in a very par­tic­u­lar way.

Kitchen plates, mostly plain white, are on dis­play in what looks like an open cup­board but is, in fact, a fire­place (‘I don’t ap­prove of kitchen cup­boards. You just put things in them you don’t want,’ he once said). In the sit­ting room, a 17th­cen­tury car­pet frag­ment is grouped with a 19th-cen­tury bel­lows, a 17th-cen­tury Mogul in­laid chest and a min­i­mal­ist bowl by the 20th-cen­tury pot­ter Lu­cie Rie. Ob­jects are not sim­ply put to­gether, they are made into some­thing.

‘When I came back from the fu­neral the house was so full of Howard. Ev­ery­thing that he bought was there, but he wasn’t,’ says Peat­tie. ‘It wasn’t a re­as­sur­ing sen­sa­tion to be sur­rounded by ab­sence, and I knew I needed to take things away in or­der to face the re­al­ity of be­ing me and not us.’

Next month, Sotheby’s will auc­tion s ome 400 obje cts from the ar ti st ’s per­sonal col­lec­tion. Hodgkin al­ways liked the idea of a sale, and be­sides, Peat­tie needs to raise money for the ‘let­ter of wishes’ – in­for­mal let­ters writ­ten by the artist out­lin­ing gifts to friends. ‘Hav­ing been short of cash through much of his early adult life, when his par­ents were un­will­ing to sup­port his am­bi­tion to be an artist, Howard ap­pre­ci­ated what money can do,’ says Peat­tie. ‘His wish was to give away large amounts of his money to peo­ple who need it.’

Items for sale will in­clude paint­ings by artist friends such as Patrick Caulfield and Bhu­pen Khakhar, In­dian paint­ings, Ot­toman can­dle sticks, Is­lamic tiles and Ital­ian mar­ble. The auc­tion will in­clude things of great value, such as a Von Hirsch‘ gar­den car­pet’ frag­ment( es­ti­mate :£80,000£150,000) and Michael Rys­brack’s mar­ble bust of King Ge­orge II, circa 1740 (£80,000-£120,000); though a modern piece, Caulfi el d’ s Sweet Bowl, is ex­pected to be the most ex­pen­sive (£300,000-£500,00). But per­haps even more in­trigu­ing are the mi­nor items – a col­lec­tion of books by Agatha Christie (read­ing Christie, says Peat­tie, ‘was his way of free­ing his mind so he could work on paint­ings in his head’), or

Col­lect­ing was how Hodgkin re­laxed. Paint­ing was dif­fi­cult and soli­tary, whereas col­lect­ing was con­vivial

into his paint­ings, spread­ing paint all the way to the outer rim.

In 1984, Coul­ter went to work for him as an of­fice as­sis­tant. Hodgkin was in the as­cen­dant: he’d been cho­sen to rep­re­sent Bri­tain at the Venice Bi­en­nale, and the fol­low­ing year would win the Turner Prize. He had re­cently met Peat­tie (his mar­riage to Ju­lia Lane, with whom he had two chil­dren, ended in 1975).

Coul­ter re­mem­bers the turquoise green of the walls (Gre­cian Spa 4 by Du­lux); a more spar­tan home but a bur­geon­ing col­lec­tion; metal jugs full of tulips; sup­pers with friends (Peat­tie was the cook). Col­lect­ing, she says, was how Hodgkin re­laxed. The paint­ing was dif­fi­cult and in­evitably soli­tary, whereas col­lect­ing was con­vivial, much more about re­la­tion­ships and con­ver­sa­tions.

She says he liked a good joke, which is why he paired Rys­brack’s bust of Ge­orge II with the mar­ble head of Louis XIV – a face-off be­tween kings. He also liked to dis­rupt the rules of col­lect­ing. ‘Col­lec­tors of­ten fo­cus on one thing,’ says Frances Christie, head of the mod-

Read­ing Agatha Christie ‘was his way of free­ing his mind, so he could work on paint­ings’

a white fi­bre­glass re­volv­ing chair on a trum­pet base (£30-£50).

Hodgkin chose every piece for a rea­son, says Jackie Coul­ter, se­nior con­sul­tant for car­pets at Sotheby’s, and a friend of the artist’s. ‘ Whether it was a painterly con­cern, a mat­ter of schol­ar­ship or some other in­ter­est, it was feed­ing some­thing.’ (Al­though she ad­mits that the team at Sotheby’s have been floored by some of his choices – for ex­am­ple, an 1830s French pa­per doll. ‘I mean, why?’)

Howard Hodgkin was born in 1932. His mother, Katharine, was the daugh­ter of a lord chief jus­tice; his fa­ther, Eliot, worked for ICI and was a keen plant col­lec­tor.

Hodgkin was ed­u­cated at Eton (for a brief year; he ran away twice), where the art teacher, Wil­frid Blunt, in­tro­duced him to In­dian art, and at the age of 14 he be­gan to col­lect In­dian minia­tures. Through­out the 1970s, trad­ing in an­tiques, specif­i­cally frames he found at junk shops and car-boot sales, sup­ple­mented his in­come as an artist and art teacher. Frames be­came some­thing of a sig­na­ture, as he’d in­cor­po­rate them ern and post-war Bri­tish art depart­ment and se­nior di­rec­tor at Sotheby’s, ‘ whe re a s h e c o mbi ne d di f f e r e n t ob­jects, ages, ge­ogra­phies.’

There is a light­ness of spirit, too, in his favourite mo­tifs: palm trees – which crop up in all sorts of places, on car­pet frag­ments, or carved into the frame of an 18th-cen­tury mir­ror – and ele­phants.

Hodgkin al­ways de­nied he was an ab­stract painter. ‘I paint rep­re­sen­ta­tional pic­tures of emo­tional sit­u­a­tions,’ he said. Re­mem­bered things – sea, sky, the side of a white­washed build­ing – melt into each other. ‘He ab­stracted his ex p e r i e nce o f pe o pl e , pl ac e s a nd things,’ says Christie. His paint­ings are pow­er­ful be­cause they are based on real peo­ple, spe­cific events. ‘And that’s what’s spe­cial about walk­ing around his home – when you see the ob­jects, the pair­ings, the myr­iad of jostling colours and pat­terns, you un­der­stand his paint­ings even more.’ The auc­tion will take place at Sotheby’s on 24 Oc­to­ber (sothe­bys.com)

Above left Hodgkin’s stu­dio, fea­tur­ing a se­lec­tion of In­dian draw­ings and paint­ings from the 17th to 20th cen­tury (rang­ing from £300 to £15,000); five T& R Boote Burslem tiles to­gether with a delft­ware tile sec­tion, 18th to 20th cen­tury (£100-£150 for...

Right In­cluded in the auc­tion of his pos­ses­sions are a frag­ment from the 17th-cen­tury Von Hirsch ‘gar­den car­pet’ (es­ti­mate: £80,000-£120,000); a 1960s Lu­cie Rie bowl (£1,500-£2,500); an early-17th-cen­tury In­doPor­tuguese fall-front cab­i­net...

Left The artist Howard Hodgkin at his cen­tral Lon­don stu­dio, in 2007.

Above Hodgkin’s liv­ing room, fea­tur­ing a John Michael Rys­brack bust of King Ge­orge II, c. 1739 (£80,000£120,000); a mir­ror from the manor of John Vardy, c. 1740 (£30,000-£50,000); an early-17th-cen­tury Span­ish car­pet (cen­tre; £8,000£14,000); a bust of...

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