A major collection of drawings and prints, illustrating James Joyce’s Ulysses by Richard Hamilton, the ‘Godfather’ of Pop Art has gone on display at the British Museum. Hamilton, one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century was recently the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Britain this year and is best known for his work executed in the 1960s. He spent fifty years giving visual expression to his love of James Joyce’s great modernist masterpiece, Ulysses, which recounts Leopold Bloom wandering around Dublin on 16 June 1904. Ulysses was first published in Paris in 1922, the year of Richard Hamilton’s birth.
Hamilton first read Ulysses while on National Service in 1947 before studying painting at the Slade School of Art. The collection consists of over 90 works on paper, the earliest of which date from 1948. Hamilton returned to the subject in the early 1980s and in the next two decades produced over 60 drawings as well as studies and preparatory states before the final etchings. In 2002 the British Museum curated a landmark exhibition ‘Imaging Ulysses’ which featured many of these works. After the exhibition, Richard Hamilton donated eight of the final etchings to the British Museum.
The collection is in many ways the odyssey of Richard Hamilton’s own artistic career and reflects his life-long interest in Irish culture and politics and his unique artistic experimentation. Its stylistic variety provides visual paraphrases of Joyce’s own linguistic inventiveness and demonstrates Hamilton’s skills as a draughtsman and printmaker.
This collection has been accepted from the artist’s estate by H M Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the British Museum. The Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme is administered by the Arts Council and the AIL Panel, chaired by Edward Harley, advises ministers on the suitability of items offered in lieu. This allocation from the AIL scheme has transformed the Museum’s holdings of Hamilton’s works.