Patrick Heron

Red Painting : April 1956

Oil on canvas: 50(h) x 40(w) in /

127(h) x 101.6(w) cm

Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: RED PAINTING: 1956/ PATRICK HERON

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BS 242



Headingly, Leeds 1920 – 1999 Zennor


Red Painting : April 1956


Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: RED PAINTING: 1956/

Oil on canvas: 50 x 40 in / 127 x 101.6 cm

Frame size: 51 ½ x 41 ½ in / 130.8 x 105.4 cm



David Thompson, acquired directly from the artist’s family, 8th November 1990

Richard Green, London, 2013

Private collection, UK



London, Redfern Gallery, Patrick Heron, 6th-30th June 1956

Edinburgh, Richard Demarco Gallery, Patrick Heron Retrospective, June – July 1967, cat. no. 41



Mel Gooding, Patrick Heron, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, 1994, repr. 2004, illustrated p. 102



In April 1956 Patrick Heron moved with his family to Eagles Nest, Zennor, back to the Cornish landscape in which he had grown up. The move from ‘the smoke and fog of London to the coastal clarities of Zennor’[1] prompted an explosion of colour in his work and the transition ‘to a fully resolved expressive abstraction’[2]. In the early months of 1956 Heron had begun a series of paintings which structure the canvas with a series of vertical, painterly strokes, chiefly in black and white: Vertical: January 1956 (Heron family collection) is the first of these.


Red Painting: April 1956 maintains the vertical format of both canvas and brushstrokes but introduces a pulsing red and touches of blue that increase the complexity and delight in abstract forms that both shimmer on the picture surface and retreat into the depths as the brain tries to comprehend them. Mel Gooding describes the ‘more openly spatial, atmospheric or aerial feeling’ of this painting, with its light, quick texturing[3]. It would lead to the next phase of Heron’s work, the ‘Garden’ paintings inspired by the spring-flowering azaleas and camellias at Eagles Nest.



Patrick Heron, Vertical: January 1956

Oil on hardboard: 243.8 x 121.9 cm

Tate Collection




Headingly, Leeds 1920 – 1999 Zennor


Although Heron was born at Headingly, Leeds, much of his childhood was spent in West Cornwall.   His father was a manufacturer who founded Cresta Silks and employed such artists as Paul Nash, Cedric Morris and McKnight Kauffer.   Heron studied part-time at the Slade School of Art between 1937 and 1939, and during the Second World War, as a conscientious objector, he worked as a farm labourer and later as an assistant in the Bernard Leach Pottery, St Ives from 1944-1945, where he met Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and many other leading artists of the St Ives School.   Considerably influenced by Braque and Matisse, his early figurative works included interiors, landscape and still lifes.   During this period Heron was also an influential art critic, writing for the New English Weekly from 1945-1947, New Statesman and Nation from 1947-1950, the London correspondent for Arts, New York, from 1955 to 1958, and published his important book The Changing Forms of Art in 1955.


Heron painted his first purely abstract paintings in 1952 and after a brief return to figuration, executed works in a Tachiste style from 1955, prior to the exhibition ‘Modern Art in the United States’ at the Tate Gallery in 1956.  This change to abstraction coincided with his move to Eagles Nest, Zennor, and the following year he exhibited his first stripe paintings at the Redfern Gallery in a group exhibition entitled ‘Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract’.   In 1958, he moved to Ben Nicholson’s former studio at Porthmeor and began to introduce the shapes that were to characterise his paintings of the 1960s and 1970s; many of the sharp-edged shapes are reminiscent of the aged Cornish coastline, while the rounded shapes recall the granite boulders in his garden.  During the 1980s, Heron returned to a looser compositional format with scumbled surfaces but retained his interest in vibrant colour. 


Heron won the Grand Prize at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition in 1959 and a silver medal at the Sao Paolo Bienal in 1965.    He had retrospective exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1972 and at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1985; the same year he was included in the St Ives Exhibition at the Tate Gallery.   He was created a CBE in 1977 and became a Trustee of the Tate Gallery in 1980.   He died peacefully at his home in Zennor, Cornwall, in March 1999 at the age of 79.

[1] Gooding, op. cit., p.104.

[2] Ibid., p.104.

[3] Ibid., p.105.

Post War BritishPatrick Heron