When Richard Hamilton passed away last year he was working on an exhibition for the National Gallery. The British Pop artist famed for works such as ‘What is it that makes today’s homes so different? So Appealing?’, was known for his up-to-date, modern and ironic work. However it appears the artist’s work was also deeply influenced by earlier works – particularly from the old masters, whose work he would study at the National Gallery as an art student, and whose influences he has shown more prominently in his final work.
The works in the exhibition are much more calm than the loud pieces of Pop Art we have come accustomed too from the artist. They command their presence however and are extremely powerful. Just like his most famous work, many of the images concern semi or fully nude bodies and interiors. The artist has also continued to look forward with the use of digital technology to construct them. The images are a fusion of oil paintings and photography and Hamilton had designed and built his own computers.
We are presented with 30 images, many of which have never been seen before. Among many artists, Hamilton has shown reference to Van Eyck’s ‘Arnolfini Portrait’, the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, Marcel Duchamp and Pieter Saenredam. The works also show an interest in perspective, mostly linear with tiled flooring which used a mathematical formula favoured by many of the old masters. Many pictures involve a female nude. One of which is a triptych, which had been left on the artist’s easel when he died. This work shows a naked woman lying down while three male artists including Titian and Poussin watch over her, possibly discussing or criticising the figure as a work of art – this has been based on Balzac’s ‘The Short Masterpiece.’
Hamilton’s images are startling beautiful. They are not as loud as some of his better known works and the cool colour schemes among the fictional locations are unnervingly calming. There is something bewitching about them too; despite being so full of imagery, the works are relaxed and the inclusion of the nude amongst these scenes makes it feel as though we are among some sort of dream like state, an illusion amongst something which should display chaos.
Hamilton’s final images show us that the artist never stopped looking forward and nor did he lose his sense of humour. They show a continuation of the artist’s Pop Art style into the present day, which he has manage to update with technology despite his strong admiration for the Old Masters.
Richard Hamilton: The Late Works is on display at National Gallery until 13 January 2013