by Maggi Hambling
oil on canvas, 1977-1978
59 7/8 in. x 68 7/8 in. (1520 mm x 1750 mm)
Given by Imperial Tobacco Ltd., 1992
This portraitback to top
Maggi Hambling studied at Camberwell (1964-7), with Cedric Morris and Lett Haines, and at the Slade (1967-9). She was the first Artist in Residence at the National Gallery in 1980-1 and is known for her expressive response to her sitters and to the natural world. In this self-portrait, the artist has painted herself with three arms to hold her three essentials of life: a cigarette, a drink and a paintbrush. All of the items in the portrait have a personal significance to the artist who painted the portrait when her love life was 'in a muddle': spiritually she was in love with the person who made the teapot, physically she was in love with the person we glimpse in the lower right hand corner of the unprimed canvas.
Linked publicationsback to top
- I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 50
- Audio Guide
- Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 91
- John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 104 Read entry
Maggi Hambling is a distinguished contemporary painter and sculptor whose portraits in the Gallery's collection include those of Dorothy Hodgkin, A. J. P. Taylor and George Melly. In this self-portrait she explores aspects of her own intellectual and emotional landscape, as she says in her contribution to the Gallery's Sound Guide, recorded in 1997:
I was spiritually in love with one person, who made the flying teapot and the little clay figures in the upper right-hand part of the picture. And physically with another person, who is visible in the bottom right-hand corner. In the top left-hand corner was my first response to a man I had seen quite by accident in a pub up the road called the North Pole, who was doing card tricks so that people might buy him a drink and of course nobody was buying him a drink. The Brassaï photograph I collaged onto the painting came from a colour supple¬ment, a series of his brothel pictures which I thought was a very beautiful and erotic picture. And the puffer fish being attacked by the adder, I suppose I felt I was a bit of a fish sort of generally puffing myself up but really quite small. And I have three arms, three hands, one for everything you need as an artist. I mean one for the brush, one for the cigarette and one for the drink.
There's confronting the muddle of my life and so when people look at this picture they confront me and my muddle. I mean I quite like that sort of rawness of it. I like things that are raw and I think it has a sense of urgency that it had to be painted.
That reveals most of the mysteries. On 1 August 1999, in the Independent on Sunday 'Sitter's Tale' series she added further explanations:
… the leaves of the begonia, the branch of the tree of happiness, were growing by the window in my studio; the tomato at the bottom left was the only tomato I had managed to cultivate all summer. There are autumn leaves sailing into the space at the top and falling out of the bottom. The gulls were swooping about outside, and Concorde always went directly above my studio, I still love Concorde … - And I have always loved penguins … The cat, Onde, considered that chair to be hers, so I'd sit opposite the canvas having to share it with her.
It's a painting made without any attempt at composition. Wherever I made an accidental mark, there had to be something; so the composition just happened, really. I am quite pleased at the way there still seems to be space for the person looking at it to inhabit the canvas, although it is full of all these diverse things.
- Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 97 Read entry
Maggi Hambling studied with the artists Arthur Lett-Haines (1894-1978) and Cedric Morris (1889-1982) at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing from 1960 and then at Ipswich School of Art (1962-4), Camberwell (1964-7) and the Slade (1967-9). In 1969 she won a Boise Travel Award and in 1977 an Arts Council of England award. She was the first Artist in Residence at the National Gallery (1980-81) and was joint winner (with Patrick Caulfield) of the Jerwood Prize for Painting in 1995.
This portrait was presented to the National Portrait Gallery by Imperial Tobacco Ltd in 1992 - appropriately, as in it Hambling smokes a cigarette, one of three life essentials (according to her) together with a drink and paintbrushes. The portrait concerns what Hambling called the 'muddle of life'. The artist confronts us with her dilemma; spiritually she is in love with the person who made the teapot, physically she is in love with the person we glimpse in the lower right-hand corner of the canvas.
I may do a self-portrait when I am not obsessed with painting another person. I don't choose my obsessions; they choose me. Someone or something moves me, and that's how it happens. When I am painting someone else, I try to empty myself so the truth can come through me on to the canvas or into the bronze. I try to be a channel.
(Independent on Sunday, 1 August 1999)
Hambling has made series of works inspired by bullfights, sunrises and laughter and more recently she produced the monument to Oscar Wilde installed behind St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1998. She is a vivid public figure, speaking out in favour of camp and recently against the erosion of art schools. She has had solo exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery (Pictures of Max Wall), Yale Center for British Art and Marlborough Fine Art. Her portrait of Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (1985), winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, is a favourite in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Her works are in numerous public collections including the Tate, National Gallery and British Museum.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 274