Dorothy Hodgkin

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Dorothy Hodgkin

by Maggi Hambling
oil on canvas, 1985
36 3/4 in. x 30 in. (932 mm x 760 mm)
Commissioned, 1985
Primary Collection
NPG 5797

On display in Room 28 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), Chemist and crystallographer; Nobel Prize winner; wife of Thomas Lionel Hodgkin. Sitter in 19 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Maggi Hambling (1945-), Painter. Artist or producer of 13 portraits, Sitter in 15 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Painted in Hodgkin's study at home in Warwickshire. The artist presents Hodgkin immersed in her work, a structural model of insulin stands in the foreground. Two pairs of hands convey energy and activity. Their appearance also refers to the subject's acute arthritis, contracted when she was 28.

More on Dorothy Hodgkin: Dorothy Hodgkin featured in augmented reality app

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 130
  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 127 Read entry

    The chemist and crystallographer Dorothy Mary Hodgkin (1910-94) is the only British woman to have won a scientific Nobel Prize (in 1964). Born in Cairo, she developed an early interest in chemistry and crystals – and, at school in England was one of only two girls permitted to study chemistry. She read chemistry, with a focus on crystallography, at Somerville College, Oxford, graduating in 1932 with a first. In 1935, after working as a research student at Cambridge, she gained her PhD. She returned to Oxford to take up a Fellowship, later becoming the first Somerville Fellow to start a family in post – and the first at the University to receive maternity pay. She was the first scientist to make an X-ray diffraction photograph of a protein, a technique that she subsequently used to define the structure of penicillin (1942-9), vitamin B12 (1964) and insulin (1969). Her many distinctions include Fellowship of the Royal Society (in 1946), the award of its royal medal (in 1956) and receipt of the Order of Merit (in 1965) – one of the UK’s highest honours. The Royal Society’s Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship offers support to those with parenting or caring responsibilities embarking on a scientific research career. In 1999, Somerville inaugurated annual memorial lectures in her name.

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 1991, p. 420 number 406
  • Gibson, Robin; Clerk, Honor, 20th Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1993, p. 26 Read entry

    In 1933 the chemist and crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin became the first scientist to make an X-ray diffraction photograph of a protein. She subsequently used this technique to define the structure of penicillin (with Charles Bunn, 1942-9), insulin (1969) and most importantly Vitamin B12, one of the most complicated non-protein molecules found in nature. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964 for her work on Vitamin B12. The following he was made a member of the Order of Merit, its second woman member after Florence Nightingale.

    Commissioned by the Gallery's Trustees, Maggi Hambling's portrait vividly expresses the scientist's life. Surrounded by the attributes of her research - files, books, structural models and computer print-outs - a vigorous energy is indicated by her four arthritic but tireless hands.

  • Hackmann, W.D., Apples and Atoms: Portraits of Scientists from Newton to Rutherford, 1986, p. 83
  • Hart-Davis, Adam, Chain Reactions, 2000, p. 181
  • Jordanova, Ludmilla, Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraits 1660-2000, 2000 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 14 April to 17 September 2000), p. 154
  • Lydia Miller; Samira Ahmed, Inspirational Women: Rediscovering stories in Art, Science and Social Reform, 2022, p. 67
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 106
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 221
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 221 Read entry

    Dorothy Hodgkin was one of the most important chemists of the post-war period, making her reputation by the analysis of the structure of penicillin, winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964 for her work on Vitamin B12 and going on to research insulin. Maggi Hambling has provided an effective image of a scientist obsessed by her work, surrounded by papers and files, with the model of insulin on the table in front of her, and her hands moving rapidly over the page as she sketches crystallographic structure. Hambling was deeply impressed by Hodgkin, writing that she was 'one of the most important and genuinely enlightened people of our time and I wanted to convey this sense of her. It's almost as though she were an ancient alchemist, making magic.' Apparently Dorothy Hodgkin's only regret was that she hadn't brushed her hair.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 306
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 245 Read entry

    In 1964 crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin became the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Fascinated with crystals from childhood, Hodgkin was an outstanding student at Somerville College, Oxford, and spent most of her career working in Oxford University laboratories. She was the first scientist to define the structure of penicillin (1942–9), vitamin B12 (1964) and insulin (1969) using X-ray diffraction photography. Her results made it possible for others to develop improved therapies for a range of diseases. The Royal Society gave her their most prestigious award, the Copley Medal, in 1976, the first woman to receive this honour. Politically active, Hodgkin was, in later life, Director of the Pugwash campaign against nuclear weapons.

    Hodgkin sat for Maggi Hambling (b.1945) in the study at her Warwickshire home, where she is shown immersed in her work. A structural model of the four molecules of insulin is on the table in the foreground. Despite Hodgkin’s acute arthritis, contracted when she was twenty-eight, Hambling noted that her hands were ‘like busy animals, always on the go’, and included two pairs of arms to evoke this energy, rather than fixing a pose.

Placesback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1985back to top

Current affairs

55 people die in the Manchester air disaster when a British Airtours Boeing 737 bursts into flames after an aborted takeoff at Manchester International Airport.

Art and science

Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organise Live Aid, a rock concert in London and Philadelphia, to raise funds for famine relief. The biggest names in popular music, including Paul McCartney, Queen, Status Quo, The Police, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, U2, The Who, and Led Zeppelin, performed to a TV audience of 1.5 billion.
The British Antarctic Survey discovers a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.


Reformer Mikhail Gorbachev comes to power as first secretary of the Soviet Communist party. He calls for 'glasnost' (openness) in Soviet life, and pursues a policy of 'perestroika' (reconstruction).
French intelligence operatives sabotage Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace vessel. The ship was leading a protest against French nuclear testing in New Zealand when it was bombed and sunk, killing one of the twelve on board.

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