Patrick Heron


Patrick Heron (b. 1920, Leeds, England; d. 1999, St Ives, England) was a British artist and critic recognised as one of the leading painters of the St Ives School. Through his art and writing, Heron made a large contribution to the dissemination of modernist ideas in post-war Britain. Within the St Ives School he was closely associated with Ben Nicholson. Heron’s early painting was inspired by Braque, Bonnard, and especially Matisse’s colour harmonies and ‘all-overness’ where no part of the canvas is more important than any other. In 1956, Heron moved to Zennor, Cornwall, and began making abstract work inspired by tachisme and Abstract Expressionism. Heron’s compositions from this time range from stripe paintings to colour fields containing soft edged discs, squares and other shapes. In his famous lecture ‘The Shape of Colour’ (1973), Heron argued that colour and shape were inseparable from each other. This ambition defines much of Heron’s work. In later life, Heron indulged in a lighter palette and looser brushstrokes, embracing rhythm and dissonance in playful, luminous compositions full of colour-shapes and colour-forms.


Heron studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, between 1937 and 1939. From 1945, Heron resumed painting and also wrote as an art critic for The New English Weekly and The New Statesman and Nation. The 1946 exhibition of Braque’s work at the Tate Gallery, London, profoundly influenced Heron; he would write a book on Braque in 1956. The Redfern Gallery, London, hosted Heron’s first solo exhibition in 1947; his first solo exhibition was held in New York at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in 1960. In 1956, he returned to Cornwall where he lived and worked until his death in March 1999. From 1980 to 1987, he was a Trustee of the Tate Gallery, London. He received Honorary Doctorates from Exeter and Kent Universities, Winchester School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London, amongst others. Heron won the Grand Prize at the John Moores Prize Exhibition in Liverpool in 1959 and the silver medal at the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1965. He held retrospective exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1972 and at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1985. He visited Australia in 1967, 1973, and 1989, exhibiting at the Bonython Gallery, Sydney. A major retrospective of Heron’s work was organised by the Tate Gallery, London in 1998.

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