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Patrick Heron, abstract painter, dies aged 79

Marc Lopatin
Sunday 21 March 1999 00:02 GMT

PATRICK HERON, Britain's foremost abstract painter, died peacefully at his home yesterday, aged 79.

Heron was known for his bold use of colour and light which redefined British abstract art in the 1960s. It is thought he suffered a heart attack.

A gifted artist and outspoken critic, Heron began painting in the 1930s and exhibited at the Tate Gallery in London as recently as last year.

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery, who was a friend for three decades, last night paid tribute both to the painter and to the man. "Heron was one of the most influential figures in post-war British art," he said.

"He was an enormously engaging man who remained very young right to the end of his life and was passionate about painting," said Mr Serota.

Heron's passionate and outspoken views were not always welcomed by the Establishment.

The son of a textile manufacturer, Heron was born in Leeds on 30 January, 1920.

A conscientious objector, he was forced to swap his paintbrush for a shovel and dig ditches in Cambridgeshire for four years during the Second World War, before ill-health forced him to return to his beloved St Ives in Cornwall, where he lived in the isolated Eagle's Nest house, perched on the top of the cliffs.

His life was dominated by Eagle's Nest and Cornwall. He was five when the family moved to the county that provided inspiration for his painting throughout his life.

The family moved again, to Welwyn Garden City, and it was there, at Welwyn High School, that Heron met his future wife Delia Reiss. The couple married in 1945 and had two daughters before she died in 1979.

But Heron longed to return to Cornwall, the scene of so many happy childhood memories. There he bought the family home he had grown up in and spent hours painting in its garden.

Heron's work was heavily influenced by French masters including Bonnar, Matisse and Braque. It is said he felt no need to emulate Picasso, the most famous artist of his day.

Heron always sought to distance himself from the abstract movement he inspired. He regarded many of those who admired his work as too metropolitan, preferring the sanctuary of his garden and the tranquillity of St Ives.

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