Howard Hodgkin, by Martin Herbert

Time Out, 1st August 2001

Howard Hodgkin

It is a deliciously strange experience. You are perusing the Gainsboroughs and Van Dycks, when suddenly there’s a trumpet blast of chromatic colour – one of ten paintings by Howard Hodgkin hung beside the Old Masters. ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ nestles between two classically themed Poussins and in close proximity to works by three lesser masters who died in Paris. Such associations direct one’s interpretation of Hodgkin’s gorgeously ambiguous marks. His broad arcs of lucid colour find harmony, for instance, in the curving arm of a Poussin nymph and, in ‘Memories’, a shrouded background triangle seems to mirror the mountain peak in the view of a Roman campagna hung beside it. ‘Autumn Foliage’ – a palimpsest of translucent smears that rack up seasonal sensations (the rich russet of leaves, a bird-shit-coloured sky) – is set off by similar tones in the society portraits by John Greenhill that flank it like sentinels.

Purely formalist comparisons miss Hodgkin’s intent, though; he wants the mood of his paintings to permeate the surrounding works, and vice versa. A notable exception is ‘Chez Max’, a tondo placed near a Tiepolo study for a church ceiling fresco. Large-scale and fizzing with Hodgkin’s trademark dots, this diamond-hard but graceful painting unapologetically hijacks the room. The carefully orchestrated interplay between contemporary and classical modes marks this show out as a classic of its kind.