Robert Hodgins (South African 1920 - )
Three bathers

oil on board, 60 x 92cm
signed and dated bottom right ‘RGH 1955’

Robert Hodgins first came out to South Africa from England in 1938 but left again when he enlisted in the armed forces in 1940. After the war and his subsequent studies at Goldsmith’s in London, he returned in 1953 to teach art in Pretoria.

In this major early work, painted in 1955, he used Rouault-like dark outlines to articulate the forms of the figurative and landscape elements, three bathers with beach huts in the background. He recalls that at Goldsmith’s, because he and a friend were ‘heavily impressed by Rouault – all black lines and sad human beings – we were, I later learnt, called the Gloom Boys’ (Robert Hodgins, Cape Town, 2002, p27). A number of related works from what has been termed his ‘White River’ period are illustrated in this recent monograph, which also shows his life-long preoccupation with nudes, both male and female. The work predates his first solo exhibition at the Lidchi Gallery in Johannesburg in 1956.

In an interview in his monograph, Hodgins recalls of this exhibition, ‘The gallery sold some pictures – at twenty pounds or so each – and to my own astonishment, I was suddenly a South African artist.’ What did his work look like then?

‘Oh, would-be sumptuous. Rosy nudes … Today I have a fondness for what’s left of that early Pretoria work; it has such innocence, the work of a young man stretching in his own sunshine …’ (p29).
In late 2004 Hodgins held his seventeenth solo exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. It vividly illustrated his sustained passion for paint which has continued for half a century since this oil was painted.

© 2005 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.