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Sir Howard Hodgkin - La vie en rose

Sir Howard Hodgkin

La vie en rose

Oil on panel: 12.5(h) x 17.5(w) in / 31.8(h) x 44.4(w) cm
Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: La Vie en Rose / 1999-2002 / Howard Hodgkin / 1999-2002

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London 1932 - London - 2017

Ref: CL 3689


La Vie en Rose


Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse:

La Vie en Rose / 1999-2002 / Howard Hodgkin / 1999-2002

Oil on panel: 12 ½ x 17 ½ in / 31.8 x 44.4 cm





The artist

Gagosian Gallery, New York;

private collection, Europe, acquired from the above

Richard Green, London, 2020;

private collection, UK



New York, Gagosian Gallery, Howard Hodgkin, 8th November- 20th December 2003; this exhibition then travelled to the Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, 10th January-14th February 2004, p.39, illus. in colour p.40



Marla Price, Howard Hodgkin: The Complete Paintings, Thames & Hudson, London, 2006, no.385, illus. in colour p.357



One of the most popular and critically acclaimed artists in Post-War Britain, Sir Howard Hodgkin, found international fame late in life as the British representative at the Venice Biennale in 1984, before winning the Turner Prize the following year. From the 1990s onwards, Hodgkin painted more freely and fluently, with an increasing sense of boldness and spontaneity despite the long gestation of his work, composed (directly on the surface without preparatory drawings) with continual layering of intuitive strokes and endless revisions. Though his work became increasingly non-figurative and elusive, Hodgkin remained preoccupied with remembrance throughout his career, describing himself as a ‘representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.’[1]


Painted at the height of his powers, Hodgkin’s glorious, La Vie en Rose, 1999-2002, is an intimate and intense oil on panel evoking the experience of a searing sunset sky. Renowned for his vivacious use of colour, Hodgkin’s central image is rendered with a luxuriant swathe of soft peach pigment above, intensifying to rich scarlet below, cut through and heightened by a luminous lime green streak across the center of the composition, appearing again, more concentrated, in the lower right corner.[2] The thick, black, freely-painted frame (an essential and characteristic element of Hodgkin’s work),[3] takes on its colouring, lightening and adding depth to its dense, striated border like a polished sheen. Slightly off-center, the frame also intrudes on the high-pitched orange/red of Hodgkin’s radiant psychological landscape, its compressed, compact form concentrating, rather than detracting from, its blissful, exuberant power. In correspondence with the artist, John Elderfield recalls that Hodgkin thought of his frames as ‘fortifying his paintings and the more evanescent the emotion he wanted to convey, the more fortification was needed ‘so that this delicate thing will remain protected and intact.’’[4] Elderfield continues, ‘Hodgkin’s framing devices represent the desire to protect the intactness of the emotion as it is entrusted to the beholder like the passing of a gift.’[5]


Hodgkin’s beautiful, witty titles are often taken from songs or musical references such as Night and Day, Stormy Weather and of course, La vie en rose - inspired by Edith Piaf’s hymn to love which made her internationally famous in the wake of the Second World War.[6] A beacon of hope in dark times, Piaf’s lyrics speak of a love affair so beautiful and intense it transcends everyday reality. Hodgkin’s powerfully evocative painting, conjuring vivid memories of past experience, also enables the beholder to transcend the present.


Writing of Hodgkin’s masterful late work, Andrew Graham-Dixon aptly summarizes: ‘Just as Turner taught us to look at sunsets, or at least taught us to pay them a different quality of attention, so too - I believe - Hodgkin has called attention to an aspect of human experience often previously overlooked. He has made us see the relationship between memory and feeling and vision in a new light. He has opened up a rather mysterious part of life and helped us to think of it afresh.’[7]


Susan Sontag agreed, finding in Hodgkin’s exquisite work, ‘the pictures offer the most earnest, emphatic tribute to the world outside, its treasurable objects and beauties and opportunities. Indeed, the sublimity of the colour in Hodgkin’s pictures can be thought of as, first of all, expressive of gratitude - for the world that resists and survives the ego and its discontents.’[8]




Sir Howard Hodgkin, Night and Day, 1997-99                    Sir Howard Hodgkin, Bedtime, 1999-2001 

Oil on wood: 65 x 77 ½ in                                              Oil on wood: 34 1/8 x 39 3/8 in

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne                           National Museum of Wales, Cardiff





1932 – London - 2017


One of the most popular and critically acclaimed artists in Britain, Gordon Howard Eliot Hodgkin was born on 6th August 1932 in Hammersmith, London to Katharine, the daughter of Lord Chief Justice, Viscount Gordon Hewart, and Eliot Hodgkin, who worked for ICI, was a keen plant collector and gardener, winning a gold medal from Royal Horticultural Society. His extended family included Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866), the physician after whom lymph node cancers were named, Luke Howard FRS (1772-1864), who named the clouds in 1802, and the artist/critic Roger Fry (1866-1934).


Hodgkin travelled with his mother and sister, Ann, to the United States before the Blitz in 1940 (staying until 1943), living on Long Island, in the house, he later said, ‘where Scott Fitzgerald set The Great Gatsby.’ His ambition to become an artist was established by the age of five and confirmed when, during a visit to MOMA, New York, he saw Matisse’s Piano Lesson. He was sent to Eton College on his return to Britain, where the art teacher, Wilfred Blunt, introduced him to Indian art; he would go on to create a famous collection of Mughal-derived Pahari paintings from the Himalayas and regularly visited India over the years. Hodgkin ran away from school twice and was transferred to Bryanston School, Dorset, from which he also ran away.


In 1949, Hodgkin completed the first painting he believed in, Memoirs, its medium, title and subject anticipating his subsequent work. He studied at Camberwell School of Art, London from 1949-1950, followed by Bath Academy of Art, Corsham in Wiltshire from 1950-54, where teachers included William Scott and Peter Lanyon, and later taught there himself along with painters Michael Craig-Martin, Robyn Denny and Adrian Heath. Following his studies, Hodgkin taught at Charterhouse School, Surrey between 1954-1956, Bath Academy of Art between 1956-1966 and Chelsea School of Art, London between 1966-1972. He married fellow art student, Julia Lane, in 1955, with whom he had two sons[9].


Hodgkin’s first solo exhibition was held at Arthur Tooth & Sons, London in 1964, the same year of his first visit to India with Robert Skelton, the Assistant Keeper of the Indian Collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum. His first solo European show was held at the Galerie Müller, Cologne, Germany in 1971 and two years later the Jill Korneblee Gallery, New York, held his first one-man show in the United States. Hodgkin’s first major museum exhibition was organised by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1976.


He became a Trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1970 to 1976 and the National Gallery, London from 1978-1985, during which time he curated The Artist’s Eye: An Exhibition Selected by Howard Hodgkin from the museum collection in 1979. From 1976-1977, Hodgkin was Artist in Residence at Brasenose College, Oxford. In 1977 he was appointed CBE (Commander of the British Empire). He was awarded a Knighthood in 1992 and became Companion of Honour in 2003.


Hodgkin represented Britain at the XLI Venice Biennale in 1984, the exhibition touring London, Washington D.C., New Haven, Connecticut and Hannover. In 1985 he was awarded the Turner Prize. Andrew Graham-Dixon published the first monograph on Hodgkin’s work in 1994 and the following year a major retrospective was organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, which toured to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Kunstverein, Düsseldorf and the Hayward Gallery, London. In 2006, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin held another major retrospective, which toured to Tate Britain, London and the Reina Sofia, Madrid. In 2017, major exhibitions of the artist’s work were held at the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Hepworth Wakefield.


The work of Howard Hodgkin is represented in the public collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Albright-Know Art Gallery, Buffalo, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, Southampton City Art Gallery, Gallery Oldham, Birmingham Museums, the Alfred East Art Gallery, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Swindon Museum & Art Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Manchester City Art Galleries, the Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, the British Council Collection, the Government Art Collection, Tate, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, amongst many others.



[1] The artist cited in Andrew Graham-Dixon, Howard Hodgkin, Thames & Hudson, London, 2001, p.7.

[2] Hodgkin’s luminous streak across the scorching horizon recalls Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray), a 1986 film by Eric Rohmer, inspired by a novel of the same title by Jules Verne; the premise, upon seeing a rare green flash at sunset, one’s thoughts and those of others are revealed as if by magic. At the end of the film, the female protagonist meets a man and together they see the green ray at sunset. Part of Rohmer’s series of comedies and proverbs, the theme of Le Rayon Vert was Rimbaud’s phrase: ‘Ah! Que le temps vienne où les coeurs s’éprennent’ (Oh! May the time come when hearts fall in love.)

[3] Marla Price, op. cit., p.33: ‘Painted outline frames began in 1970… by 1973 the painted frame was an inevitable element of the compositions.’

[4] John Elderfield, ‘Mystery in Method’, Howard Hodgkin The Complete Paintings, op.cit., p.19.

[5] Ibid., p.27.

[6] La Vie en Rose, 1942, lyrics by Piaf and music by Louiguy, later translated by Mack David and recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1950.

[7] Andrew Graham-Dixon, op.cit, p.205.

[8] Susan Sontag, ‘About Hodgkin’, in Michael Auping, John Elderfield, Susan Sontag and Marla Price, Howard Hodgkin Paintings, Thames & Hudson in association with The Modern Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, 1995, p.109.

[9] They separated in 1975, Hodgkin acknowledging his homosexuality.

Other Works By
Sir Howard Hodgkin:

Sir Howard Hodgkin - Waterfall


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