Eliot Hodgkin

Eliot Hodgkin by Howard Coster, 1953.
© National Portrait Gallery, London.


Curwen Eliot Hodgkin, the only son of Charles Ernest Hodgkin of Purley Lodge, Pangbourne near Reading, and of Alice Jane Brooke was born on the 19th of June 1905.

Hodgkin was educated at Harrow School from the summer of 1919 until the summer of 1923, and attended its summer Art School and Sketching Classes. He also studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art in Camden Street and was a pupil of the Principal Ernest Jackson (1872-1945), remaining under his guidance at the Royal Academy School, where he stayed from March 1927 to June 1928.

In order to prepare works for an exhibition at the Basnett Gallery in Liverpool, Hodgkin left the Royal Academy School and with two other friends formed the Gresse Group. They shared a studio in the road of the same name in London’s Fitzrovia. After that, Eliot Hodgkin joined the Pandemonium Group, consisting of five artists in their third and fourth exhibitions in the late 1920s.

Hodgkin held his first solo exhibition in the Autumn of 1936 at the Picture Hire Gallery in Brook Street, showing 23 pictures of landscapes, portraits and flowers painted during the last ten months. Hodgkin had many more solo exhibitions during his career, exhibiting for the first time in the United States in 1958, at the Durlacher Bros Gallery in New York.

From 1934 to 1981 he took part in 46 summer exhibitions with 113 paintings at the Royal Academy. The Chantrey Bequest bought at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition of 1936 Eliot Hodgkin’s painting October (1935). They bought two more over the years at the RA summer exhibitions, and presented all three to the Tate Gallery.

In 1940 he married Maria Clara Egle Laura (Mimi) Henderson (née Franceschi), who had a great love for art and helped him organizing and filing the records of his work. They had one son and three grandchildren.

During the War, Hodgkin worked for the Home Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Information and also joined the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions). Nevertheless, he managed to keep on painting between 1940 and 1944. Hodgkin was very much attracted to the contrast between the ruins of the bombed sites in London and the vegetation growing out of them. He produced paintings on this subject and received a commission from the War Artists Advisory Committee for one of them.

Portrait of Eliot Hodgkin by Cecil Beaton

Portrait of Eliot Hodgkin by Cecil Beaton. (Private Collection).
Photo © The Estate of Eliot Hodgkin.


Hodgkin was very particular in choosing subjects for his paintings and very meticulous in how to dispose the items to be painted. He would choose simple things, natural objects and looked at them as it was for the first time and never painted before. Sometimes it would take him as long to arrange them against a background as to paint them.

He started painting in oils and would do his work either outdoors or indoors. Later on, after gaining a recipe from his friend and teacher Maxwell Armfield, he dedicated more of his time painting in egg tempera and indoors. He would begin his work with a detailed drawing of the subject to be painted, traced it onto the primed hardboard and then painted it.

Hodgkin’s interest in tempera was due to the fact that this medium was the only one that allowed him to express the character of the objects that fascinated him. He lists the following influences from the past and inspiration for his work in egg tempera: the flowers in the margin of the miniature of The Last Judgment, in the Book of Hours by the Master of Mary of Burgundy, 1485-1490; Fray Juan Sanchez Cotan (1561-1627); Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664); and Adriaen Coorte (working 1685-1723).

As a teacher, in 1936, Eliot Hodgkin worked briefly at the Westminster School of Art, and also conducted art classes for prisoners.

As a writer, Hodgkin wrote his first and only novel in 1931, She Closed the Door. In 1932, a book on Fashion Drawing published by Chapman and Hall. From March to August 1935 he wrote six articles on Mural Decorations, for The Artist. In 1948, Hodgkin selected illustrations of London sites for the paperback 55 London Views. In 1949, he published A Pictorial Gospel, a book which brings together the Gospel story and the works of art of old masters who illustrated it. Finally, in 1967, he wrote the article How I Paint in Tempera, for the Yearbook of the Society of Painters in Tempera.

Music was Eliot Hodgkin’s companion whilst painting. He enjoyed opera, late nineteenth and early twentieth century music, and composers such as Berlioz, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Elgar, Verdi and also Handel. Hodgkin also enjoyed jazz, especially Ella Fitzgerald, and was a great fan of BBC Radio 3.

Eliot Hodgkin by Howard Coster

Eliot Hodgkin by Bassano, 18/11/1931
© National Portrait Gallery, London.


He had a great love for architecture and belonged to various supportive groups, which also included Art Groups. Hodgkin contributed to the restorations of churches and bequeathed moneys to The Victorian Society and The Georgian Group. He also used to rent especial buildings in the UK for short periods of time such as a Pineapple House, a converted Light House and a residential flat at Scotney Castle. For his annual summer holidays abroad, he would select places of interest such as Palladian buildings outside Venice, a farmhouse outside Florence and several places in France, such as a fortified village in the South of the country and near the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s Chateau. He also invited various art friends to share these venues with him and the family.

Art collecting was amongst the many interests of Hodgkin. He would often visit antique shops looking for new additions and inspirations. Usually, in the early spring, he would go with Mimi on Art tours to visit Barcelona, Istanbul, Japan, India, as well as other interesting cities and countries. In Istanbul, for instance, he visited with his son Max the interior of an old Christian Church, which had been transformed into a Turkish bath. Hodgkin often made a scrapbook of his journeys.

Hodgkin was a very religious person and Anglican by faith. Every year, he would do some days of religious retreat with the Benedictine Monks. He had a small book where he put down his religious thoughts and feelings, and was also a very charitable person.

He had a large library mainly of art books, but it also included travel, architecture, religion and historical biographies.

Eliot Hodgkin kept painting until the late seventies. Due to eyesight difficulties, his working gradually diminished until he fully stopped in 1979.

During the last years of his life, Hodgkin suffered from a crippling disease, described as an ataxia. He died on 30th of May 1987, at the age of 81. His ashes are buried in the churchyard of St. John’s, Ladbroke Grove, in London.

  • 1905

    Baby Eliot Hodgkin

    Curwen Eliot Hodgkin was born on the 19th of June 1905. In this photo Hodgkin was 10 months old.

  • 1931

    She Closed the Door

    In 1931 Hodgkin published his first and only novel 'She Closed the Door'.

  • 1936

    Picture Hire Exhibition

    First one-man show. In October 1936 Hodgkin exhibited 23 paintings at Picture Hire Limited.

  • 1940

    Eliot and Mimi

    Eliot Hodgkin married Mimi in 1940. She was his lifetime partner.

  • 1948

    A Pictorial Gospel

    Hodgkin published his last book. Pictorial Gospel brings together the Gospel story and works of art in which old master sought to illustrate it.

  • 1958

    Hodgkin's first one-man show in the United States

    Eliot Hodgkin did two solo exhibitions in New York. His second one was in 1962.

  • 1970

    Eliot Hodgkin Painting Outdoors

    Hodgkin kept painting until the late 1970s.