Patrick Heron (1920-1999)

The British artist, Patrick Heron’s work is notable for its vibrancy of color.  Matisse, Bonnard and Braque were very early influences on his work which takes the form of abstract paintings of soft-edged shapes and forms as well as vertical and horizontal stripes.  Inspired by the landscape and gardens around his home near St. Ives in Cornwall, UK, he also found resonance in the work of the Abstract Expressionist painters of the New York School.  He was also a gifted writer and art critic.

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Patrick Heron was born in Headingley, Leeds in 1920, the eldest of four children.  His father was a textile manufacturer who was a conscientious objector during the First World War and who held strong socialist beliefs.  Heron’s parents encouraged his creativity and inspired in him a love of nature and a strong engagement with the political affairs of the world.  He was a pacifist and a socialist all his life and, like his father, registered as a conscientious objector during World War II, choosing instead to do heavy agricultural work at home.

Patrick Heron Reds Yellows Blues
Reds, Yellows and Blues, Sikscreen print
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When Heron was five, the family moved to Newlyn, Cornwall where his father ran his textile business.  He had an idyllic childhood in Cornwall and the light and color of the landscape made an impression on him, even at a young age. 

In 1932, Heron became a boarder at St George’s school in Harpenden, Hertfordshire where his painting talents were nurtured and encouraged.  From 1934 he designed textiles for his father’s company and from 1937-1939 he attended the Slade School of Art in London.

In 1943, made ill by the heavy work he had undertaken for the War effort, he was forced to stop and was subsequently offered a job as a potter in the St Ives Pottery by its owner Bernard Leach, a family friend.    He remained there until the War ended.

In 1945, he married Delia Reiss and they lived in London, spending their summers in St Ives.  The Georges Braque exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London in 1946 made a deep impression on Heron and he wrote an essay on the painter, which he later presented to Braque when he visited him in his studio in Paris.

Heron had his first solo exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in London in 1947 and another solo exhibition followed in 1960 at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York.  During these years, he also taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and was the art critic for The New Statesman.

Heron had been moving towards abstraction in his work from the early 1950s.  He was further inspired in this direction by the American Abstract Expressionist exhibition in London in 1956. He loved the the big scale on which these artists worked and admired their daring and the sense of freedom they demonstrated in their work.

In 1956, Heron returned with his family to Cornwall, having bought Eagle’s Nest, the house in Zennor where he had spent time as a child.  The landscape and the gardens of the house were one of the main sources of inspiration for his work. He also drew on memory in his paintings and used the emotional impact certain memories had for him as his creative subjects.

Patrick Heron died at his home in Cornwall in 1999.