Ten portraits of the artist Richard Hamilton, one of the founders of Pop Art in Britain, went on display Monday at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition,was originally intended to mark the artist’s approaching 90th birthday. Hamilton: Portraits of the Artist will run from 19 December 2011 to 14 May 2012 in Room 32 of the Gallery. The new show plays tribute to the life and career of artist Richard Hamilton, who died earlier this year.
Hamilton was a member of the Independent Group which, during the early 1950s, met regularly at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, to focus on the study of popular culture, particularly that emanating from America. He was fascinated by the visual language of contemporary society including advertisements, consumer products, packaging, fashion, cinema, magazines and design. He strove to both interrogate and celebrate mass culture through his art work. In addition to painting, Hamilton also worked with printmaking, sculpture, photography and, latterly, computer technology, creating a diverse body of work that represents a unique engagement with the ‘look’ of the modern world.
Drawn from the Gallery’s Collection the portraits span over 30 years of Hamilton’s life. The earliest portraits on display are by the photographer Lord Snowdon taken in 1963, the year Hamilton first visited America. In a photograph by Jorge Lewinski (1964) he is pictured in front of his celebrated painting Interior II, one of two works to feature a silk screen print of the actress Patricia Knight. Also on show is an intriguing self-portrait entitled Portrait of the Artist by Francis Bacon, the starting point for which was a rejected photograph of Hamilton by Bacon. This self-portrait illustrates Hamilton’s skill in printmaking by mimicking Bacon’s characteristic brushwork. Other works in the display include David Hockney’s etched portrait which was made from life in 1971, the same year Hockney and Hamilton protested against museum admission charges. Photographs by John Hedgecoe, Michael Cooper, Tino Tedaldi, Nicholas Sinclair and Carolyn Djanogly have been selected to represent moments in Hamilton’s long artistic career.
Born in Pimlico, London in 1922, Hamilton studied at St Martin’s School of Art (1936), the Royal Academy (1938-40) from which he was expelled for failing to respond to instruction in painting, and finally at the Slade School of Art (1948-51). In1956 Hamilton made the collage Just What Is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, a seminal work which became one of the icons of Pop Art. Major retrospectives of his work have been shown at Tate Gallery, London, in both 1970 and 1992, the Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1973 and in 1993 he represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale and was awarded the Golden Lion. He was appointed Companion of Honour in 2000 and received the Max Beckmann Prize for Painting in 2006. Richard Hamilton died on 13 September 2011 aged 89.
Photo © PC ROBINSON ArtLyst 2010