The Estate of Eliot Hodgkin asked the well-known contemporary artist Howard Hodgkin to share his memories of his cousin Eliot Hodgkin. Howard has the same passion for art and is, like Eliot was, a keen collector.
He was twenty-seven years older than me, a contemporary of my father, who was also called Eliot. The family had a habit of nicknames, so he was called Purley Eliot – he was born and lived there.
He and his Swiss wife Mimi were friends of the family and of mine. They adored each other in a very contemporary, non-possessive way. He once remarked that she liked a landscape he had painted, because it reminded her of the finishing school she had attended.
He and my father were very close: they shared a passion for talking about art and, in particular, for work by Degas. My father worked for ICI but he loved gardening. Uncle Eliot once remarked on my father’s ‘trembling sensitivity’. He painted two portraits of my mother and was godfather to my beloved sister Ann. He gave her great presents, posh art books and a beautiful trompe l’oeil painting of walnuts that I still have.
My favourite work by Eliot is ‘And This is the Dining Room’, from 1945, a touching record of the destruction wrought by the Blitz.
He was an infinitely charming and witty man. I once asked him what he thought of my aunt Marabel’s taste. ‘The trouble is’, he replied, ‘she is always in such a hurry….’
He had exquisite taste, the first adult I’d met who wore beautifully tailored clothes, often made of silk. He was a perfectionist in his life and in his work. His interiors were always fascinating: he cared about them so much, unlike my parents. He collected eighteenth century French furniture, which he then had upholstered in considerable style.
Eliot encouraged me as a person, rather than as an artist. ‘Let us agree not to talk about each other’s work’, he once said. His remark impressed me greatly, as it seemed to imply that he took my work seriously, at a time when few other people did.
Our names appeared together in a review of an exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1963, ‘Artists as Collectors’. He showed works by Degas, Redon, Tissot, Vuillard, Delacroix, Oudry and Greuze. I showed some Indian Miniatures.
We had that in common, collecting. We once met by chance, perhaps on Bond Street, and I remember him saying, ‘Let us cross the road to the sunny side of the street, where there are works of art for sale.’
Howard Hodgkin on Eliot Hodgkin, 4 October 2016, transcribed by Antony Peattie