Eliot Hodgkin, “Peeled Lemons”, 12/03/1958, Tempera on Board, 21.5 x 24.7 cm, Estate of Eliot Hodgkin, Exhibition: Royal Academy 1958
Born in Purley-on-Thames in June of 1905, Curwen Eliot Hodgkin was an English painter best known for his highly detailed still lifes. The only son of Charles Ernest Hodgkin and his wife Alice Jane Brooke, he was raised in a Quaker family related to Roger Eliot Fry, a prominent member of the Bloomsbury Group of artists. Eliot Hodgkin was also the younger cousin of abstract painter Sir Howard Hodgkin.
Hodgkin received his early education at the Harrow School from 1919 to 1923. His initial formal art training was in London at the independent Byam Shaw School of Art. He later enrolled at the Royal Academy School where he studied under painter and draughtsman Francis Ernest Jackson, a student of both William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant. Hodgkin left the Royal Academy to prepare works for an upcoming exhibition at Liverpool’s Basnett Gallery.
Eliot Hodgkin was very particular in the choice of subjects for his paintings; he would choose simple things, often natural objects, and meticulously arrange them against the painting’s background. Hodgkin originally painted in oils, both indoors and en plein air. Introduced in 1937 to a method of creating egg tempera by his friend and teacher Maxwell Armfield, he dedicated more of his time to painting indoors with egg tempera on primed hardboard. Hodgkin’s interest in egg tempera was influenced by the detailed work of such artists as Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran, known as the Spanish Caravaggio, and Adriaen Coorte, the Dutch Golden Age painter of small still lifes.
By the middle of the 1930s, Hodgkin had established himself as a painter of still lifes, landscapes and murals through regular exhibitions at the Royal Academy. Between 1934 and 1981, he took part in all the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions. Three of Hodgkin’s works, including the 1939 “October”, were purchased at the summer exhibitions by the Chantrey Bequest founded by wealthy portrait sculptor and painter Sir Francis Chantrey. These three works were later presented to the Tate Gallery collection in London. In 1938, Hodgkin had his first solo exhibition at the Picture Hire Gallery on London’s Brook Street where he showed twenty-three works painted during a ten month span.
During the years of World War II, Eliot Hodgkin joined the Air Raid Precautions, an organization of wardens supporting citizens during air raids, and worked for the Home Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Information. He continued his painting during the war and produced paintings contrasting the ruins of London’s bomb sites with the vegetation that thrived in the devastation. For his work, he received a commission as part of the War Artists Scheme, a project devised and administered by Kenneth Clark, the Director of the National Gallery.
Hodgkin taught briefly as a teacher in 1936 at the Westminster School of Art. He was offered the position of academic at the Royal Academy of Art in 1959; however, he declined in order to concentrate on his painting. Hodgkin wrote a novel, “She Closed the Door” in 1931 and, in the following year, six articles on mural decorations for the book “Fashion Drawing” published by Chapman and Hall. In 1949, he published “A Pictorial Gospel”, a collection of old master illustrations of the Gospel story. His last published work was an article entitled “How I Paint in Temper” for the Society of Painters in Tempera’s 1967 yearbook.
Eliot Hodgkin continued his painting until his late seventies. Due to eyesight difficulties, his work slowly diminished until it stopped completely in 1979. During the last years of his life, he suffered from axatia, loss of full control of his bodily movements. Eliot Hodgkin died in May of 1987 at the age of eighty-one; his ashes are buried in the churchyard of St. John’s Ladbroke Grove in London.
“Why tempera?… Because tempera enables me most nearly to achieve the effects I am aiming at… 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. And it seems to me that, in trying to depict “a World in a grain of sand”, perhaps the best medium is tempera, because it combines clarity and definition with a certain feeling of remoteness.” – Eliot Hodgkin, 1946, Royal Watercolor Society Catalogue
Note: More extensive information on Eliot Hodgkin’s life and work can be found at The Estate of Eliot Hodgkin website located at: https://www.eliothodgkin.com
Top Insert Image: Howard Coster, “Eliot Hodgkin”, 1953, Silver Gelatin Print, 22.9 x 17.8 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London
Second Insert Image: Eliot Hodgkin, “Five Gladiolus Bulbs”, 04/03/1954, Tempera on Board, 10.2 x 13.7 cm, Private Collection, Exhibited at Leicester Galleries in 1956
Third Insert Image: Eliot Hodgkin, “Portrait of Douglas Fitzpatrick”, Date Unknown (circa 1930), Pencil and Watercolor, 58.4 x 47 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Eliot Hodgkin, “Orto Chiuso, Malcontenta, Italy”, 1957, Oil on Canvas, 24.2 x 19.7 cm, Private Collection, Exhibition Waddesdon 2019