Obituary: Harry Hambling
Friday 30 January 1998
On his retirement at 60, Harry Hambling's daughter Maggi (herself one of Britain's leading artists) gave her father a set of oil paints. It was not until five years later that he found himself using them, but once started he didn't stop.
For the next 30 years there existed a friendly rivalry between father and daughter, each contending for the best sales and the most fervid reviews. When they shared an exhibition at the Minories in Colchester in 1988, many comments in the visitors' book favoured Harry above Maggi; luckily this never ceased to amuse both of them.
Harry Hambling enjoyed seven solo shows of his work, and exhibited twice at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. His last four shows, all in the 1990s, were entitled "A Suffolk Eye", thus drawing attention to his ability to match a particular moment with an exact sense of place. His paintings, mostly oil on board, were based on observation adapted by imagination.
Although untaught, he possessed a brilliant sense of pictorial design, and could be as compositionally sophisticated and daring as an artist like Patrick Caulfield. He was not a naive or primitive painter, but a natural who developed into something of a visionary. As his work grew more assured, the colour grew more intense, and Hambling - who relished a touch of drama - became adept at flaming Turneresque sunsets and thunderheads of cloud. He was equally good at the hazy blue of a linseed field or wild bluebells amidst gorse and silver birches. Being essentially practical, he was quite happy to trace with charcoal around a real fish to get its shape right in a picture. Or to turn the picture upside down when painting grass, so that the natural thinning out of the brushstroke captured the shape of the grass-blades. Certain subjects recurred: leafless oak-trees, rape fields, still-lifes, haystacks in mist.
A Suffolk man through and through, Hambling lived nearly all his life in his beloved town of Hadleigh. After leaving Northgate School in Ipswich he joined Barclays Bank and remained with them until his retirement in 1962, working briefly in the Ipswich branch before transferring to Hadleigh.
There he lived with his family in a charming house on the High Street, with long gardens running down to the river. Hambling was a keen gardener, winning prizes for his onions and cultivating a profusion of plants and flowers. He was an active man, inventive as well as energetic. He founded Hadleigh Football Club and was a keen tennis player and bowls champion. Though he was in his seventies at the time, he was elected the first Hadleigh Sports Personality of the Year. A talented amateur actor, he considered his finest role to have been that of the school teacher in Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version. He was involved in local politics and also founded and played for the Hadleigh Bridge Club.
His paintings are owned privately by George Melly, Delia Smith and Paul Bailey among others as far afield as Australia and America. Public collections include Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, and Barclays Bank. As one admirer pointed out: "Mr Hambling, your pictures are for the discerning."
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