A 2016 trip to Mumbai resulted in what would be Howard Hodgkin’s final paintings. Knocking with color and feeling, they are a vivid and furious epitaph
Last burst … A Green Thought in a Green Shade by Howard Hodgkin – now on show at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill. Photograph: Prudence Cuming Associates/Howard Hodgkin Estate, courtesy Gagosian
Howard Hodgkin would sometimes lose heart and his partner Antony Peattie would say: “Shall I get the scissors?” They both knew what he meant, says Peattie, as we look at Hodgkin’s final paintings in a back room at the Gagosian gallery in London. It was a joke about the great colourist Henri Matisse, who started snipping paper cutouts when illness and age left him too weak to paint.
In fact, although he used a wheelchair in his final years, Hodgkin never needed the scissors. He was to die practically brush in hand. In 2014, sitting in his skylit studio close to the British Museum, the painter told me: “I know that once I can’t paint any more, they should start measuring for my coffin.” An exhibition of his final, powerful paintings at the Gagosian shows how true those words were. Even as his health failed, Hodgkin found a way to paint. When he stopped, it was to go to hospital for the last time.
Hodgkin painted his very last works in the winter of 2016-17 in Mumbai, a city that always filled this remarkable artist with renewed energy. It was not a holiday, though, but a carefully planned painting trip. “We got there in December and he just wanted to work,” says Peattie. “I think all the pictures were in his head. He just wanted to get to Mumbai to paint them out.”