Artist biography

Edgar HUBERT 1906-85

Neglected by histories of twentieth century British art, Edgar Hubert produced some of this country's most radical abstract paintings of the 1930s. He was born the son of a doctor in Billingshurst, West Sussex on 1 June 1906, the second of three boys and a girl. Much of his childhood was spent in Clevedon, Somerset and he studied art at Reading School of Art before attending the Slade School (1926-9). Ill-health forced him to return from London to his family in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire in the late 1930s and ensured his exemption from active service during the war. The deaths of his father and two brothers between 1936 and 1947 affected him deeply and he remained in the family home until his mother died c.1960. He then moved to Seaford on the Sussex coast where he led a reclusive life until his death.

Hubert's early work was in a figurative style typical of Slade students at that time. He exhibited an Entombment at the First Exhibition of the Young Painters Society at the New Burlington Galleries in 1930 and showed sporadically with the London Group from 1931 to 1947. With Geoffrey Tibble and Rodrigo Moynihan, he was one of the main figures of the 'Objective Abstraction' movement of 1933-7, though he was not included in the exhibition of that name at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1934. Despite sharing their left-wing politics, when the others returned to figuration he continued to work in both abstract and semi-figurative styles. His wartime paintings consisted of post-Cubist figures in ambiguous spaces and abstractions of geometrical linear patterns over subtly coloured grounds. They reveal his appreciation of Surrealism and geometric abstraction and, though always distinctive, might variously be compared to the work of Paul Klee, Ben Nicholson, Jankel Adler and Eduardo Paolozzi. Later his painting became darker and more complex and included more organic forms. These, combined with geometric linear patterns, characterised a body of works produced from the 1940s to the late 1950s which were purely black and white. During that period he also displayed a looser, more complex manner that related to much abstract painting of the time.

Hubert was included in group exhibitions at the Lefevre Galleries (1942), the London Gallery and the Anglo-French Art Centre (1946) and at the Mayor Gallery (1948 and 1953). He had two one-person exhibitions at the Mayor Gallery in 1946 and 1948 and Lawrence Alloway persuaded him to show in the ICA's Forty Years of Modern Art (1948). His work was shown twice in Paris: in the British Council's important La Jeune Peinture en Grande Bretagne (1948) and at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1949. Hubert's career was severely hindered by his chronic shyness and with the death of Geoffrey Tibble, then his neighbour, in 1952, he appears to have lost almost all contact with the art world. He nevertheless continued to paint, returning at the end of the 1950s to an all-over style that recalled his work of the 1930s. These, and related experiments, persisted until a few weeks before he died on 25 January 1985.

Chris Stephens
October 1997