Brian Ernest Hagger, artist: born Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 29 January 1935; married 1964 Anne Richardson (one daughter); died Norwich 18 March 2006.
The artist Brian Hagger never made a national reputation, but he created a body of work that can never be matched. His paintings of the dowdier Chelsea and Fulham area of London in the 1960s and 1970s and later of unfashionable Brighton are a valuable record of everyday streets and shops long swept away by modernisation. The honesty and attractiveness of his images ensured him steady sales.
He was born in 1935 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, the only child of a manager in the retail hardware trade. When Brian's art teacher spotted his talent and urged him to go to art school, Arthur Hagger suggested he become an architect, a more secure living. But the architectural practice approached instead wanted someone who had already been trained, and Brian joined Ipswich Art School. There he happily studied from 1952 to 1956, teachers including Colin Moss and Philip ("Pif") Fortin.
After National Service in the Army, Hagger attended the Royal College of Art, where he was taught by Carel Weight, Ruskin Spear, Ceri Richards and Colin Hayes. Hayes thought highly enough of Hagger's work to include examples of it in his 1965 manual The Techniques of Oil Painting.
By that time Hagger had been married for about a year, to Anne Richardson whom he had known from his Ipswich days and met again when she was working at the Royal Academy of Arts. After the Royal College Hagger set out to be a full-time painter. The urban realism of Walter Sickert had long attracted him, reinforced through his Royal College tuition from Ruskin Spear.
The Haggers lived in a Redcliffe Square bedsitter. Anne Hagger recalls:
We did our shopping in Fulham market. When I was working Brian would go out with his rucksack and while shopping take photographs or do drawings of the small local shops. Occasionally an old shop-front was being replaced with plastic signs, which he found irritating. If he was too long drawing a shop, the shopkeeper would come out and say: "You're not from the council, are you?"
During a Royal Academy Summer Exhibition a customer told Anne: "I buy paintings down on the railings, at Green Park." Hagger thought he would give this a try:
He was so ashamed that he used to hide out of the way, only signing his oil on board with an H. When he began to be successful, he bought canvases, put the prices up and signed them with his name.
One American, Oscar Lerman, liked Hagger's work so much that he invited him to exhibit at the new Bramante Gallery he was opening, in Stag Place. This introduced Hagger to many notable collectors. He had four solo exhibitions there between 1968 and 1971.
When Lerman returned to the United States and Bramante closed, Hagger offered his work to the Thackeray Gallery. There he had four more one-man exhibitions, between 1972 and 1975, one a sell-out. The owner, Priscilla Anderson, was particularly amused when after the exhibition clients, keen to see exactly where their pictures had been painted, set off in their cars to find the spot.
Hagger's last solo show in 1976 was at the Langton Gallery, appropriately in the World's End area where he had regularly painted. He had found so many subjects there that he had to abandon the idea of depicting the East End, which would have provided similarly rewarding material. "Between leaving college and 1976 I produced around 350 paintings of London, mainly Fulham and the unfashionable end of the King's Road," Hagger said.
He adopted the same approach while living in Brighton from 1974. The Haggers had decided it was time to buy a house and chose the Sussex resort. Hagger regarded Brighton as "London by the sea", and the fact that it was one of Sickert's haunts was an added attraction.
Family circumstances prompted a return to East Anglia in 1979, where the Haggers settled in Norwich. Brian had shown on occasion at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. He also exhibited with the Furneaux Gallery in Wimbledon, Phoenix Gallery in London and Lavenham, and annually with the Norwich Twenty Group.
While in Brighton he had taught part-time at Salisbury College of Art and in Norwich he did more teaching at Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design and through it adult education classes. Latterly, Hagger turned more to drawing. He did paint Norwich and East Coast scenes, but told me a few years ago: "I have not yet found a theme to replace the London series."
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