Sheffield exhibition tribute to famed city artist shows his final works

A new exhibition at the Millennium Gallery is set to present some of the last paintings made by one of Britain’s leading abstract artists, Sheffield-born John Hoyland.

By Julia Armstrong
Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 9:41 am

Several of the works going on display to mark the 10th anniversary of the painter’s death have never been shown publicly before.

Born in Sheffield in 1934, John Hoyland is regarded as one of Britain’s leading abstract painters. Sheffield Museums, in partnership with The John Hoyland Estate, are present John Hoyland: The Last Paintings. The show opens at the Millennium Gallery on Saturday, July 3.

John Hoyland is renowned for his bold use of colour and inventive forms. In a career spanning more than 50 years, his tireless innovation pushed the boundaries of abstract painting and cemented him as one of

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John Hoyland, Dominion, 2007, acrylic on canvas, © The John Hoyland Estate

the most inventive British artists of the 20th century.

He attended Sheffield School of Arts and Crafts, then went on to study fine art at Sheffield College of Art in 1951.

Together with fellow pupil Brian Fielding, one of John’s closest friends and later a formidable artist in his own right, they rambled around post-war Sheffield discussing ‘art with a capital A’.

John Hoyland, The Swoop, 2003, Acrylic on canvas © The John Hoyland Estate

John left Sheffield in 1956 to study at the Royal Academy of Art in London, where he became exposed to contemporary abstract art and was quickly swept up in a period of great artistic change.

The series of abstract paintings he exhibited for his diploma show in 1960 so shocked the then-president of the academy, Sir Charles Wheeler, that they were ordered down from the walls.

His career went from strength to strength and his first solo show in 1967 at the Whitechapel Gallery was described by critic Mel Gooding as “an achievement in scale and energy, sharpness of definition and expressive power unmatched by any of his contemporaries, and unparalleled in modern British painting”.

The Last Paintings will display nine large-scale works works made in the last eight years of John’s life, showing previously unseen paintings such as Moon in the Water, the last of his Mysteries series.

John Hoyland, Elegy (For Terry Frost), 2003, acrylic on canvas © The John Hoyland Estate

The paintings celebrate life in the face of death. He used symbolism and adopted a semi-representative language centred around images of the cosmos, moons, suns, stars, and birds.

He said in 2006: “When one is young and has experienced a good deal of rejection, you want to show everyone how tough you are.

“Later, you want to show how clever you are. Later still, you want to see how far you can push yourself. And finally, you don’t give a f**k about anything, you just want to howl at the moon.”

Kirstie Hamilton, director of programmes at Sheffield Museums, said: “John Hoyland is rightfully known as one of Britain’s most important abstract painters. These works, created in his final years, saw his creativity and desire to push, to challenge and to break new ground resolutely undiminished.

"We’re delighted to work with The John Hoyland Estate show these, some of his last paintings, here in Sheffield, the city of his birth.”

John Hoyland: The Last Paintings continues until October 10 – entry is free.