Howard Hodgkin - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 2, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “Every painting is its own self-sufficient world to be experienced as we would experience a foreign place travelled to for the first time: radiant, uncanny alien.”
    —Andrew Graham-Dixon

    Howard Hodgkin in his London studio. Image: David Levene/Guardian/eyevine

    Juxtaposing sweeping, gestural arcs of vivid paint with shorter, rapid brushtrokes, Summer Rain is an unusually large-scaled work of startling vitality and verve by renowned British artist Howard Hodgkin. Executed in 2002, it is a masterful, mature expression of the artist’s lifelong commitment to colour and the emotive power of painterly gesture, its dazzling juxtapositions of rich forest greens and sunny yellows highly evocative of the warm seasonal showers suggested by its title. Deftly combining abstract and more descriptive elements, Summer Rain showcases Hodgkin’s skill at balancing a sense of the shifting light and atmosphere observed in the natural world with the expression of inner, emotional landscapes – memories and sensations sedimented over time and drawn out in Hodgkin’s slowly gestated paintings. As the artist himself would famously describe: ‘I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional states.’i


    While the heightened sense of pattern, and bold, bright palette typically associated with Hodgkin often aligns discussions of his work to the formal simplicity of Henri Matisse - the organic form in the centre here especially recalling the floating forms of Matisse’s late cut outs - in these more complex exchanges between colour, memory, and sensation, these mature works also evoke the tropical warmth and exoticism of Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian landscapes.


    Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Landscape, 1891, Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Image: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Julius C. Eliel Memorial Fund, 49.10

    Palm Reading


    Rendered in four, thick and confident sweeps of green, connected by a vertical passage edged in darker browns and luminous touches of white, the central motif of the work is immediately legible as a resplendent palm, one long green frond curving elegantly over the picture’s edge. A  recurring form in the artist’s pictorial vocabulary, the palm relates both to the physical landscape of the more exotic places that the artist visited in his lifetime and a condensed symbol of the desire to travel and explore itself. While the palm tree motif would recur across painted works whose titles referenced far-flung destinations such as India or Tangiers, in the 1990s Hodgkin’s simplified this visual language further,  producing a series of prints featuring the motif. As Hodgkin explained, this lively but simple motif had been suggested to the artist by the memory of travel posters that he had seen in the Paris metro in the 1950s, successfully glamourising the notion of visting these remote, tropical places that would eventually lead the artist away on his own adventures.


      Left: Travel Poster, Air France – ‘Marseilles Iles Baleares Alger en 5 Heures’, 1934. Image: Sam Kovak / Alamy Stock Photo
    Right: Howard Hodgkin, Indian Tree, 1991, Hiscox Collection, London. Image: © Alan Cristea Gallery, London / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Howard Hodgkin. All rights reserved, DACS 2023

    A Passage to India


    First falling in love with the idea of India as a schoolboy, he eventually visited the South Asian country in 1964 where he was immediately captivated by its intense heat and colour–finally having found the ‘somewhere else’ for which he realised he had been yearning.ii Returning annually, Hodgkin soaked up the sights and smells that he found there, amassing a deep storehouse of recollections and sensations that he would draw on back in his studio in England. The ‘product of sustained deliberation’, his paintings were typically gestated slowly – sometimes over a period of years – accruing layers of paint and memory working together so that ‘means, medium, and memory are all in synergy.’iii

    ‘Out of the airport, wonderful air, bright sunshine and completely flat land to the horizon. Straight out of the edges of the plain came silhouettes of hills. Then the upward ascent of thirteen numbered hairpin bends through valleys filled with betel trees, blue gum, and as we went higher still, tea. Brilliant technicolour light and then soft hill after soft hill with contour line terracing…’
    —Howard Hodgkin

    As critic Andrew Graham-Dixon has described, while the references to travel and a multitude of different locations do, on one level document the painter’s movements, they do so ‘only imprecisely’. Instead, these dazzling, chromatically saturated works propose that ‘every painting is its own self-sufficient world to be experienced as we would experience a foreign place travelled to for the first time: radiant, uncanny alien.’iv Hodgkin’s bright, fresh palette reflects this, employing  ‘colours as seen by someone who approaches the world with the attitude of the one travelling, who sees it unveiled and undimmed.’ Fittingly, Summer Rain featured prominently in the 2017 exhibition Painting India, organised by The Hepworth Wakefield in collaboration with Hodgkin before his passing. Highlighting the profound impact of the country on his career and the deep sensitivity to colour that he developed, the exhibition  presented a unique celebration of Hodgkin’s relationship to India, encapsulated by Summer Rain itself.


     Howard Hodgkin: Painting India at The Hepworth Wakefield, 2017.


    Painting Beyond the Frame


    Blurring distinctions between the painting and the world beyond, after 1970 Hodgkin adopted wooden supports in the place of traditional canvas, as is evident in the present work. This practice allowed him to paint beyond the picture’s edge, confounding conventional notions of pictorial space and depth and allowing the composition to spill ‘outwards, towards the sublime, before being curtailed at the last minute, confined within an outer barrier of brushstrokes.’v The brighter band of yellow framing the outermost edges of the work here creates an illusionistic sense of depth, at once drawing attention to the painting as an object in its own right, and playing with art historical notions of painting as windows into other worlds. Working in close dialogue with Hodgkin’s affective use of colour, these mature works place viewers ‘in an environment of heightened physical, imaginative, and affective sensitivity.’vi


    Executed just after Hodgkin’s 2001 solo exhibition at The Dulwich Picture Gallery, Summer Rain is a beautiful example of the artist’s mature work, a period of consolidation and expansion following the deepening critical acclaim that he experienced during the '80s and '90s. Selected to represent Great Britain at La Biennale di Venezia in 1984 and the winner of the prestigious Turner Prize the following year, by 1994 he was honoured with a knighthood in recognition of his contribution as one of the leading artists of his generation. On a technical level, Hodgkin’s fortuitous discovery of the quick-drying agent Liquin in 1976 would radically push his practice forward, hitting upon ‘a medium that suited me absolutely [and] changed my life, as an artist, totally.’vii Today, this same quick-drying agent is used by young British artist Jadé Fadojutimi, whose exquisite and vibrantly hued compositions similarly shift between abstract and more figurative elements as they build complex emotional landscapes. Transforming memory into painterly mark in the chromatically brilliant and gestural surfaces of her works, Fadojutimi's work shares Hodgkin's deep appreciation for colour and continues to push the limits of this language into the 21st century.


    Collector’s Digest

    • A towering figure of late 20th century painting, Howard Hodgkin’s chromatically brilliant and gestural abstractions have pushed the boundaries of his chosen medium into radical, new territory.

    • A stunning example of his mature work, Summer Rain was included in a solo exhibition focused on his ongoing dialogue with India and its impact on his work at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2017. It was also included in the artist’s first solo show in Paris, hosted by Gagosian Gallery in 2014.

    • Recently, Hodgkin has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London (2020); Galerie Andres Thalmann, Zürich (2019); National Portrait Gallery, London (2017); among others. His current exhibition, Howard Hodgkin: The Artists He Painted, runs until March 11 at Vardaxoglou Gallery, London.

    • Examples of his work are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and Museu de Arte Contemporanea de São Paulo; among various others.



    i Howard Hodgkin, quoted in Enrique Juncosa, ed., Writers on Howard Hodgkin, London, 2006, p. 104.

    ii Howard Hodgkin, quoted in Anna McNay, ‘Howard Hodgkin: Painting India’, Studio International, 10 July 2017, online

    iii Nicholas Hatfull, ‘Recollected Works – Howard Hodgkin: Memories – reviewed’, Apollo, 16 October 2020, online

    iv Andrew Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, London, 1994, pp. 103-104.

    v Anna McNay, ‘Howard Hodgkin: Painting India’, Studio International, 10 July 2017, online

    vi Richard Morphet, ‘Paradox & Plenitude’, in Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 1992 – 2007 (exh. cat.), New Haven, 2007, p. 19.

    vii Howard Hodgkin, quoted in Alan Woods, ‘Where Silence Becomes Objects’, Transcript, Vol. 3. Issue 2, 1998, online.

    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Gagosian Gallery, Howard Hodgkin, 13 June - 22 August 2014, pp. 38, 110 (illustrated, p. 39; illustrated in the artist’s studio, p. 99)
      The Hepworth Wakefield, Howard Hodgkin: Painting India, 1 July - 8 October 2017, pl. 24, p. 90 (illustrated, p. 55)

    • Literature

      Jonathan Jones, ‘Howard Hodgkin: ‘Once I stop painting, they should start measuring my coffin’’, The Guardian, 27 March 2014 (illustrated in the artist’s studio, online)

    • Artist Biography

      Howard Hodgkin

      British • 1932 - 2017

      One of the greatest colorists of his generation, Howard Hodgkin explores the very nature of painting as both cultured language and sheer expression. He disregards the classical polarities of abstraction and representation, past and present, canvas and frame, using gestural brushstrokes and a vivid palette to emphasize the picture plane, while simultaneously seeking to convey memories and emotions.

      The seemingly casual, urgent quality of his paintings and prints belies a drawn-out process of making: it could take a year for Hodgkin to prepare to execute a single brushstroke. The resultant maximalist, saturated works on canvas, paper, wood and board can be intimately scaled and jewel-like, or oversized, opulent and theatrical. Whilst his early compositions have a collaged, geometric flatness, Hodgkin's later work (including etching and aquatint prints) increasingly incorporated more lush surface textures and complex, fluid patterns reminiscent of the Pahari miniatures from India, of which he was an avid collector.

      View More Works

Property from a Distinguished Collection


Summer Rain

signed, titled and dated ‘Summer Rain Howard Hodgkin 2002-2013’ on the reverse
oil on wood
108 x 133.4 cm (42 1/2 x 52 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2002-2013.

Full Cataloguing

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡♠

Sold for £292,100

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 March 2023