Howard Hodgkin (b.1932, d. 2017)
A British painter and printmaker, Howard Hodgkin is known for his abstract portraits and landscapes rendered with a bold colour palette. The cities he visited on his many trips to India, particularly Mumbai, provided much of the subject matter for Hodgkin’s work. He was also a serious collector of medieval Indian miniature paintings and is generally considered to have had a well-informed taste in art, forming a collection that is today regarded by scholars as one of the most significant in the world.
Hodgkin was born in London in 1932. He spent most of his childhood in the city, except for three years during the Second World War when he moved to New York with his sister to live with family there. At the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art there, Hodgkin was exposed to Modernist art, particularly abstractionists such as Jackson Pollock, which contributed to his outlook and philosophy as an artist. After returning to the UK, Hodgkin briefly attended Eton College where he was introduced to Indian paintings by his teacher Wilfrid Blunt. Hodgkin eventually dropped out of Eton however, to pursue an education in art at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts from 1949 to 1950, and then at the Bath Academy of Art from 1950 to 1954. For the next two decades, Hodgkin taught at Bath, and then at the Chelsea School of Art. In the 1970s and 1980s, he worked as an artist trustee for the Tate and the National Gallery, appraising and purchasing artworks for the gallery collections. Hodgkins represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984, and won the Turner Prize the following year. He was knighted in 1992 and in 2003 was made a Companion of Honour, a Commonwealth award for contribution to the arts.
In 1955, Hodgkin married Julia Lane, a fellow student at Bath, and subsequently had two children with her. The couple separated in 1978, largely because Hodgkin had come to terms with his sexuality as a gay man, and wished to live more openly. He later began to live with his partner Antony Peattie from 1983 onwards.
Hodgkins first visited India in 1964, accompanying Robert Skelton, who was the curator of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Indian collection at the time. Already fascinated with Indian art since his time at Eton and having dabbled in buying individual pieces since the age of fourteen, Hodgkins began to seriously collect Indian paintings — and to a lesser extent, textiles and other craft items — for the rest of his life, both from India itself and from dealers in the West. He eventually attempted to sell his collection of 122 paintings, mostly from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2017 shortly before his death. As the collection had been assembled over five decades and on the basis of aesthetic value rather than provenance, most of the paintings did not have a history of legitimate sales before Hodgkins had acquired them. As a result, the museum could not accept the offer, as Hodgkins insisted that all the paintings be bought as a whole collection and not selectively. In 2021, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York expressed an interest in buying the collection, which is currently managed by his partner Peattie.
Apart from his interest in Indian art, Hodgkins was very taken with the country itself after his first trip. He returned often, for a while even annually, with Peattie. He visited various cities of historical importance out of his own interest, while using his time in Mumbai — a fixture in all his trips — to establish relations with many notable members of the Indian art community over the years, such as Bhupen Khakhar, Krishna Reddy, Geeta Kapur and Shanay Jhaveri.
Hodgkins often maintained that, barring a few rare exceptions such as Bombay Sunset (1972–73), his work as an artist was not influenced by his collection of Indian paintings. By the time Hodgkins began to visit India regularly, his style had decidedly shifted into abstractionism. The forms and palette he used were based on what was, to him, the vast range of bright colours and chaos of life in India. He was particularly interested in the effect of the seasons on the coastal landscape, especially the monsoon storms. In this regard, a significant series — which Hodgkins considered a single unified work — is Indian Waves (1990-1991), for which he first prepared a textured intaglio print on different sheets of khadi paper, with blue pigment applied to the lower half and green to part of the upper half. He then painted over these with gouache, essentially populating a seaside landscape with different forms and colours. One of his most significant projects in India is a mural of a banyan tree on the British Council headquarters in New Delhi, which he designed as part of the building’s plan with architect Charles Correa in 1992. The tree is not painted but composed of black kadappa stone — a type of almost-black limestone — and white marble, spread across surfaces at different angles above the front entrance.
The paintings which Hodgkins made in India are often considered a distinct body of work. Notable shows of these include Made in Mumbai, at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai in 2016, and Howard Hodgkin: Painting India at The Hepworth Wakefield, London 2017. His collection, in parts or as a whole, was exhibited in Indian Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Howard Hodgkin at the British Museum in 1991; Indian Court Painting: 16th–19th Centuries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1997; The Adventures of Hamza: Painting and storytelling in Mughal India at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. in 2002; and Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin at the Ashmolean Museum in 2012.
The artist died in London in 2017.
Alberge, Dalya. “Mystery over origins of Howard Hodgkin’s Indian art collection could see it lost to UK.” The Guardian. April 11, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/apr/11/mystery-over-origins-of-howard-hodgkins-indian-art-collection-could-see-it-lost-to-uk.
Black, Holly E J. “How India Was an Enduring Inspiration for Howard Hodgkin.” Culture Trip. July 06, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2022. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/articles/how-india-was-an-enduring-inspiration-for-howard-hodgkin/.
Hodgkin, Howard. “About my Collection.” Asian Art, 1991. https://howard-hodgkin.com/indian-collection/resource/about-my-collection.
“Howard Hodgkin.” Gagosian. April 12, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2022. https://gagosian.com/artists/howard-hodgkin/.
“Howard Hodgkin: Painting India.” The Hepworth Wakefield. July 1, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2022. https://hepworthwakefield.org/whats-on/howard-hodgkin-painting-india/.
Niesewand, Nonie. “Howard Hodgkin: 1932-2017.” Architectural Digest India. March 10, 2017. https://www.architecturaldigest.in/content/howard-hodgkin-1932-2017/.
Wroe, Nicholas. “The colour of emotion.” The Guardian. March 24, 2001. Accessed June 17, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/mar/24/books.guardianreview3.