Howard Hodgkin

Dinner at Smith Square


Not on display

Howard Hodgkin 1932–2017
Oil paint on hardboard and wood
Support: 946 × 1251 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

Hodgkin uses colour and pattern to create a visual equivalent for his personal impressions, recalled in memory. This painting was based on the many evenings he spent dining with art-collector friends in Smith Square, London. Hodgkin has said that, for him, it conjures the scene of 'two old friends talking across their table below a small painting by Bonnard'. His paintings are often made over many years, and incorporate the shifting viewpoints and perspectives of memory.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting falls neatly into the context of the artist's oeuvre, a competent example of a series of works recording, via decorative abstraction, social events that took place in the late 1970's. The date suggests that the painting, being conceived and executed over a number of years, is to capture the essence of a regular social event, which the artist particularly wished to preserve.

The paint has been applied using broad brush strokes of oil paint applied directly on sized hardboard - the areas of exposed hardboard appear to be saturated by some form of sealing material. At the edges of the work an iron-oxide coloured translucent medium can be seen, probably a localised imprimatura beneath some areas of the design. Broad brush strokes lie one on top of the other, and although there is a sense of a speedy application there is little mixing of these layers. On top of the broad brush strokes paint has been applied using the ends of the bristles. It would appear that a dry broad headed brush has been dipped into tube oil paint and applied in circular dabs onto underlying opaque rectangles of colour. Areas of the hardboard are left exposed and are utilised into the design.

Rachel Barker
August 1999

Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
Oil on hardboard with integral wood surround, 37 1/16 × 49 1/8 (94.6 × 125.1)
Purchased from the Waddington Galleries (Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund) 1980
Exh: John Moores Liverpool Exhibition 9, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, November 1978–February 1979 (42); The Artist's Eye, National Gallery, June–August 1979 (12 repr., with the date 1978–9); Howard Hodgkin, Knoedler, New York, April–May 1981 (1, colour); A New Spirit in Painting, RA, January–March 1981 (59, colour); Aspects of British Art Today, Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, February–April 1982, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Utsunomiya, April–May 1982, National Museum of Art, Osaka, June–July 1982, Art Museum, Fukuoka, August 1982, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Sapporo, September–October 1982 (131, repr.)

Howard Hodgkin painted ‘Dinner at Smith Square’ after dining with long-standing friends who are art-collectors. They were very generous in asking him to dinner frequently once they knew Hodgkin was painting the picture, so that he could refresh his memory of the occasion; once they posed so that he could make drawings of them and of details in the room. That was probably the only time Hodgkin has made such studies of sitters for his paintings.

In the catalogue of his exhibition The Artist's Eye (p.22) at the National Gallery, Hodgkin wrote of ‘Dinner at Smith Square’: ‘Two old friends talking across their table below a small painting by Bonnard. The husband once said “How much more beautiful is a picture in black and white!” I tried to do this, but failed.’

About two years after completing this picture Hodgkin painted ‘After Dinner at Smith Square’ (private collection) in which the composition has much in common with that of ‘Dinner at Smith Square’.

This catalogue entry, approved by the artist, is based on a conversation between him and the compiler (2 November 1983).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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