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John Minton/ the Lost Man of British Art

I watched this programme on catch up tv. It was written and presented by actor Mark Gatiss. I anticipated that much would be made that Johnny Minton was gay as Gatiss is too.

In fact, you can criticise British art for many things but homophobia is not one.

Two of our most celebrated post war artists are/were flamboyantly gay – David. Hockney and Francis Bacon.

So were – if not flamboyantly so – Howard Hodgkin, Edward Seago, Edward Burra and Christopher Wood whose life and death closely resembled that of Minton.

Gatiss did bring up a public row between Marie Stopes and Minton over overt homosexuality but generally he tried to assess Minton as a painter and spoke to various experts. I hoped one might be Martin Gayford whose book Modernists and Mavericks is highly informative on post-Second World War British artists. He was not consulted and the critics were not that perceptive.

So why did Minton, as important and acclaimed an artist in the fifties as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, fall from popularity?

First, he was all things to all men. He was an illustrator, painted colourful figurative works and – in a change of tack – a historic painting of the death of Nelson. Unlike Bacon with his dark homo-erotic works, or Hockney with his Californian swimming pools, or Freud with his  graphic representation of flesh, you cannot identify a Minton.

Second, he was never  in control of his life, drinking heavily. He was not a disciplined artist.

Third, and I’m not being trite here, but names are important. Johnny Minton sounds like someone who played 330 games for Tranmere Rovers as a nippy right winger, not a groundbreaking artist. Think of his name and compare it to Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali. It’s not that memorable.

Fourth, how good was he ? At his best he was inferior, in my opinion, to Edward Burra at his worst.

Fifth, art is subject to the vagaries of fashion, art movement, style and luck and Minton simply dropped off the radar after he took his life aged 39.

Christopher Wood died jumping under a train aged 29 but he was part of Picasso Paris and the Nicholsons’ St Ives set. His work continues to rise in price. Of course you can neither predict nor gauge popularity. Botticelli took a few centuries to be appreciated and Gustav Klimt’s erotic work was scorned in his lifetime. Minton, the subject of an exhibition at the Pallant Gallery last year, and this programme might yet revive his standing. I would advise collectors to buy whilst he is still relatively cheap. 



About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts