Patrick Heron

Art on This Day

Eight Including Ultramarine,  1971, Patrick Heron © Estate of Patrick Heron. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2016 (2)


Patrick Heron was born on this day in 1920. He was a British abstract and figurative artist, who was one of the half dozen important British painters of the twentieth century.

When he was 17 he attended The Slade School of Art for two days a week, returning to the West Country to draw the landscape. In World War II he registered as a conscientious objector and worked as an agricultural labourer for three years, then at the Leach Pottery at St Ives in 1944–45, where he met Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and many other leading artists of the St Ives School. His first one-man exhibition was at the Redfern Gallery in London in 1947. In 1953 he organised, wrote the catalogue and exhibited in Space in Colour, an exhibition of ten contemporary artists, at Hanover Gallery, London. Following this he exhibited twelve paintings at the Il Bienal di São Paulo, Brazil. The same year he began teaching at Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and continued there until 1956.

The same year, Heron saw, and praised highly the American Abstract Expressionists who showed their work for the first time in England at the Tate Gallery. He was inspired by this group of eight painters, their confidence and the large scale and flatness.

A development towards abstraction had been evident in his paintings, he made noteworthy contributions to the development of abstract art. Employing the term “non-figurative” to describe his exploration of vibrant color, he believed that all art could be considered abstract. Heron worked to make all areas of a composition into areas of equal importance, turning the English painting convention of narrative, figurative paintings on their head.


Heron's writing about art began when in 1945 he was invited by Philip Mairet, the editor of The New English Weekly to contribute to the journal. His first published article was on Ben Nicholson, followed by essays on Picasso, Klee, Cézanne and Braque. Two years later he became art critic of the New Statesman until 1950. He became London correspondent to Arts Digest, New York (later renamed Arts (NY)).

In 1966, 1968 and 1970 he published a series of articles in Studio International questioning the perceived ascendancy of American artists. His final essay on the subject was in a closely worded article of some 14,000 words published over a period of three days in The Guardian in October 1974.

A major retrospective exhibition of Heron’s work was held at Tate Britain in 1998, and he won the Grand Prize at the John Moores Prize Exhibition in Liverpool in 1959 and the silver medal at the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1965. His work is in a number of important collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, The National Portrait Gallery in London, and many others.

He died at his home in Cornwall, England on March 20, 1999, at the age of 79.