A World in a Grain of Sand: Eliot Hodgkin

A World in a Grain of Sand is the first line of Blake's poem Auguries of Innocence, and is a phrase that comes to my mind when I consider the work of the English painter Eliot Hodgkin (1905-1987). To begin, here are two early paintings that show Hodgkin's interest in focusing on small, easily overlooked corners of the natural world:

Eliot Hodgkin A Small Clearing in the Wood  (1942)

Eliot Hodgkin Chiswick Park in the Fog (1948)

Over time Hodgkin narrowed his focus even more, painting small collections of things like leaves, flowers and feathers, simply but painstakingly arranged on a flat surface. He chose to work in tempera, finding the medium perfect for capturing clarity of detail. There is an almost scientific quality in the exact look of these natural objects, but also a mood of quiet reverence, and even awe, as if the artist is seeing these things for the first time and is transported by their beauty.

Eliot Hodgkin Five Variegated Ivy Leaves (1960)

Eliot Hodgkin Nine Spring Turnips (1960)

Eliot Hodgkin Feathers and Hyacinth Heads (1962)

In the following two paintings of leaves, my eye goes to the beautiful abstract shapes of the negative, or background spaces as much as to the crinkly surface of the subject:

Eliot Hodgkin Large Leaf 

Eliot Hodgkin Leaves (1970)

Now finally, here are seven Brussels Sprouts that are painted with the same kind of careful, worshipful attention often reserved for portraits of princes or even of nativity scenes:

Eliot Hodgkin Seven Brussels Sprouts (1955)

Eliot Hodgkin was the cousin of the abstract painter Howard Hodgkin, the artist and art critic Roger Fry as well as the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner. 
In so far as I have any conscious purpose, it is to show the beauty of natural objects which are normally thought uninteresting or even unattractive: such things as Brussels sprouts, turnips, onions, pebbles and flints, bulbs, dead leaves, bleached vertebrae, an old boot cast up by the tide -Eliot Hodgkin



  1. My God! What beauty! What accuracy of lines, seems a hand will stretch and can take a leaf or turnip! Thank you!

  2. Thank you, Taryn, for sharing your gift of art on so many levels. This series of poetry and visual art has opened a place for poetry, which has been difficult for me to read, but I love it when it is read to me. However, reading the poetry along with the painting makes the words come alive.


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