Richard Hamilton

Swingeing London 67 (f)


Not on display

Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Acrylic paint, screenprint, paper, aluminium and metalised acetate on canvas
Support: 673 × 851 mm
frame: 848 × 1030 × 100 mm
Purchased 1969

Display caption

This work is based on a photograph, taken from a newspaper, showing Mick Jagger handcuffed to the art dealer Robert Fraser following their appearance in court on drugs charges. Both were convicted. The title plays on the term ‘Swinging London’ and the judge’s insistence on imposing a swingeing penalty. For many, this occasion typified the moral backlash against the liberalisation of the 1960s. Hamilton is widely regarded as a founder of pop art. He incorporated images from film posters, magazines and art history in his art and was interested in architecture and design, as well as broader political subjects.

Gallery label, September 2018

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Richard Hamilton b. 1922
T01144 SWINGEING LONDON 67 (f) 1968–9

Not inscribed.
Acrylic, collage and aluminium relief, on silkscreen of acrylic on canvas, 26½×33½×½ (67.5×85×1.5).
Purchased from the artist through Robert Fraser Gallery (Gytha Trust) 1969.

Exh: Robert Fraser Gallery, April–May 1969 (11); Tate Gallery, March–April 1970 (147, repr.) and tour of Eindhoven and Berne.
Lit: Reyner Banham, ‘Representations in Protest’, in New Society, 8 May 1969, pp. 717–8; Richard Morphet, catalogue of Tate Gallery retrospective exhibition, March–April 1970, pp. 78–82.

On 12 February 1967, Sussex police raided the West Wittering home of Keith Richard of the Rolling Stones. Among those with him in the house at the time were Mick Jagger, lead singer of the group, Marianne Faithfull, and Hamilton's dealer Robert Fraser. Keith Richard was charged with allowing his house to be used for the smoking of cannabis resin; Jagger and Fraser were charged with being in unlawful possession of different drugs, and after court proceedings both were sentenced to imprisonment (Fraser for six months; Jagger's sentence was commuted on appeal to a 12 months' conditional discharge).

Hamilton was one of the signatories of a closely-argued letter published as a full page advertisement in The Times of 24 July 1967, headlined ‘The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice’. The title of T01144 is therefore an ironical comment on the contrast between the excesses of individualism and freedom of behaviour attributed to the London pop world of 1967 and the restraints on privacy and personal choice and freedom represented by the Fraser/Jagger prosecution and the ‘swingeing’ sentences imposed. Time magazine of 15 April 1966 had published an article (pp. 32–42, advertised on the cover by the phrase ‘London: The Swinging City’) which purported to document a snowballing social revolution towards light-hearted permissiveness, centred on London, and gave international currency to the phrase ‘Swinging London’ from which Hamilton's title is derived.

The source for T01144 and its related works was a press photograph taken on 28 June 1967, showing Jagger and Fraser handcuffed together and seen through the window of a police van as they arrived at the court building in Chichester. Taken by a Daily Mail photographer, Mr John Twine, it was published in the Daily Sketch, 29 June 1967. Working from this photograph, Hamilton made a sketch in pencil, pastel, watercolour and metalised acetate (coll: Arts Council of Great Britain), in which the photograph's dramatic qualities of lighting and posture are accentuated. While working on this, he realised that the photograph must have been taken by flash. He sought to sustain in all his versions of this subject the photograph's combination of passages of blurred vagueness with hand retouching for newspaper reproduction.

Hamilton originally intended the culminating work on this theme to be the relief (private collection, Cambridge) in which a photo-based painting of the handcuffed figures is seen inside a glazed box, the sliding windows at the front of which simulate the windows of the police van. To create a satisfactory photographic base, he took an enlarged print of the original press photograph, on which he painted out the exterior of the van and the verticals which had partly obscured the figures, and added invented forms to all four sides of the central image. The working drawing which resulted was the image from which a screen was made, which was employed in its turn in the ‘window’ relief version. Before making this version, Hamilton decided to make trial studies, on canvas, towards an ideal fusion of print and paint. Onto five same-sized canvases, he transferred the linear outlines of the composition of the working drawing, and then made within these outlines five paintings contrasting in texture and colour intensity. The image of the working drawing in black was then superimposed on each by screening, the intention being to effect a documentary quality and a superficial uniformity. As work on these versions proceeded, they became major works in their own right, rather than studies. The series on canvas was completed by a sixth version, T01144, worked simultaneously, in which by contrast with the other five the screened image was applied to a smoothly primed unpainted canvas and paint (with other elements—see below) was then applied on top of it.

Common to all six paintings is a basic colour scheme (allowing wide variations) derived from press reports, and the colouring of the two windows behind the figures. The right hand window always suggests sky or landscape to represent the freedom being left behind and the left hand window is the colour of brick, symbolising the figures' impending enclosure: the press photograph was taken as the van drove from the street past the gatepost of the court building. In (a) (coll: Rita Donagh) the under-painting was as straightforward as possible, the aim being a clear simplicity of image and maximum smoothness of surface. By contrast (b) (Sammlung Ludwig, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne) was painted in a heavy impasto with dramatic brushwork; Hamilton had in mind a type of academic flamboyance associated with certain Royal Academy paintings of the 1930's. The paint in (c) (coll: Michael Friedrichs, Cologne) was air-brushed to give soft modulations and a slightly Renoiresque quality. (d) (Private collection, Italy) was again painted in heavy impasto but with dramatically exaggerated colour; fierce oranges and purples were applied at the points where the screen would print darkest, so as to glow through the black deposits. (e) was also painted in very heightened colour, but the medium was enamel, creating a markedly harsh and gritty texture in the screened black. In (f) (T01144) Hamilton felt free, as he was painting on top of the screened image, to add collage; it was used for the views through both windows and for the handcuffs. Realisation of the handcuffs presented the particular problem of how to give them adequate definition while remaining true to their out-of-focus vagueness in the photograph. Hamilton's solution was to formalise the glinting, rather uninformative abstract shapes in the photograph into a progression of arbitrary-seeming discrete collaged elements in aluminium and metalised acetate. Used in T01144, having been originally intended for the ‘window’ relief version, these focus the psychological importance of the handcuffs.

As studies for the application in T01144 of paint over silkscreen, Hamilton made a number of versions in the same media on paper. Only one of these was completed; it is reproduced in the catalogue of the Tate Gallery retrospective (148).

Two other works on the same theme were an etching with aquatint, diestamping and collage, and a ‘poster’ print worked from a collage by Hamilton of newspaper reports of the drugs trial. This print, published by ED 912, Milan, in 1968, reproduces, at top left, the original press photograph common to all versions of the theme.

Hamilton's work of the previous nineteen years had included many single and multiple figure paintings, as well as surprisingly many works in which one figure is repeated many times. There were also works in which a figure was placed in a neo-human relationship with a machine, and one in which two heads were merged. Two-figure compositions were strikingly absent owing to the difficulty Hamilton sensed in making any relationship between two figures satisfactory simultaneously in both psychological and pictorial terms (i.e. not too dramatic or intense). After completing the Swingeing London 67 series, Hamilton realised that he had, intuitively, solved this problem. Formalisation, both functional and visual, of the relationship creates a necessary detachment at the same time as yielding a rich complexity.

The canvas reverse of T01144 contains an abandoned earlier drawing of the outline of the figures as seen in the working drawing.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1968-70, London 1970

You might like