Richard Hamilton

Microcosmos: plant cycle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Etching, drypoint, engraving and aquatint on paper
Image: 177 × 225 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

These prints, with their tentative shapes resembling amoebae, anemones and other forms of microscopic life, were made in response to D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's book on morphology On Growth and Form (1917). The book was a scientific study of the forms in nature, which argued that recognisable mathematical structures can be found in all organisms. The print titled Heteromorphism was used as the cover of a catalogue for Growth and Form, an exhibition inspired by Thompson's theories, which Hamilton and Nigel Henderson organised in 1951, when they were both studying at the Slade School of Art. (See display cases).

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

P07654 Microcosmos (plant cycle) 1950

Etching, drypoint, engraving and aquatint with punch impressions 7 × 8 3/4 (177 × 225) on unbleached Arnold paper 9 3/4 × 11 1/4 (250 × 287), printed by the artist at the Slade School of Art, not editioned
Inscribed ‘R Hamilton’ b.r. and ‘5/20’ and on the back ‘MICROCOSMOS (PLANT CYCLE) 3 gns’
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Lit: Hamilton no.39, repr. p.33; Richard Morphet, Richard Hamilton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, March–April 1970, p.18

This print, together with ‘Structure’, ‘Heteromorphism’ and ‘Self-portrait’ were made while Hamilton was working on the Institute of Contemporary Art's contribution to the Festival of Britain in 1951, an exhibition entitled ‘Growth & Form’. Hamilton's display and the imagery he used were the central exposition of the new interest in biological-natural forms which expanded, in a style generally known as ‘crystal structures’, through fashionable textiles, ceramics and the new man-made materials. In terms of Hamilton's work, however, the significance of his work on ‘Growth & Form’ lay in his adoption of natural imagery from photographic sources and technical diagrams, and the way he used this now visual language to examine the problems of painting itself. Hamilton was interested in the principles of growth expressed in d'Arcy Thompson's book of the same title. By using images from microscopy and X-rays, as well as botanical or biological subjects, Hamilton created a new currency of forms recognisably natural yet distanced from traditional naturalism in painting. ‘Microcosmos’ is related to paintings of the same title;

‘Hamilton first titled all [these works] ‘Microcosmos’, to affirm the analogy between the visual quality of works of this type and certain music of Bartok. Bartok's ‘Mikrocosmos’ are instructional pieces for the piano some of which are intended to be so simple as to be played by anyone; these works of Hamilton equally follow an open, step-by-step development... In these abstract works, as at all periods since, Hamilton is already consciously employing banal elements as the means to sophisticated ends’ (Morphet, p.18).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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