- John Minton
- The Life Model
- signed and dated 1948; also titled on the stretcher; further signed, titled, dated 1948 and inscribed on Artist's label attached to the stretcher
- oil on canvas
Sale, Phillips London, 5th November 1991, lot 47
Sale, Sotheby's London, 24th November 1993, lot 108, where acquired by David Bowie
In the collection of the Royal College of Art hangs a small but intense portrait, painted in 1952 by one of Britain’s most celebrated and internationally recognised artists, Lucian Freud. The painting depicts the head and shoulders of a man only half there - his friend and early supporter, the artist John Minton. Although nowhere near as internationally recognised as his friend, Minton holds a pivotal position within the mid-century period of British figurative art. In the 1950s he was amongst the most celebrated artists working in London, and, much like David Bomberg, he left a lasting legacy through his role as one of the most important and influential teachers to young art students in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Once described by the art historian Frances Spalding as ‘a kind of David Hockney of his day’ (John Minton: 1917 – 1957, A Selective Retrospective (exh. cat.), Davies Memorial Gallery, Newton, 1993, p.9) Minton’s driving inspiration was the figure and the male figure in particular. Together with his on-off friend Keith Vaughan, whom he lived with at Hamilton Terrace, he painted the male nude in a way that no other artist of the period could: with a knowing understanding and a strikingly bold confidence. He found beauty in the defined muscular build and a distant, never-quite-confronting gaze.
During his time spent as one of the most popular tutors at the Royal College of Art he led students in direct observation in the life room. He loved theatre and theatrics, and staged his paintings accordingly, seen in the present work, which becomes a portrait, still life painting and set design combined into one.
Colour and pattern remained a lasting fascination for the artist, with a palette so evocative of the late 1940s period. Minton was an elegant idealist, writing for a lecture at the Birmingham College of Art and Crafts in 1952 that ‘the truth is in the painting of it, not in the saying of it’ (Speculations on the Contemporary Painter, City of Birmingham School of Printing, Birmingham, 1952, p.3) and to look closely at the present work you are drawn deeply into Minton’s world, in much the same way that Freud’s portrait of the artist draws you in. Whilst the world of Freud’s quite challenging portrait brings to mind the tragic life that Minton led, culminating in his eventual suicide in 1957, the world that Minton creates in the present work is one of colour, strength and idealised beauty.