My Favourite Painting: Mark Hedges

Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life magazine since 2006, chooses his own favourite painting for one of his magazine's best-loved regular slots.

Mark Hedges on Peeled Lemons by Eliot Hodgkin

‘In 2019, I had never heard of Eliot Hodgkin, but this extraordinary image of peeled lemons was on the Art Editor’s computer screen as I walked through the Country Life office. I was transfixed. The ordinary had been made extraordinary.

‘A complete rethink to that week’s front cover ensued and, although I eventually chose one of his remarkable paintings of strawberries for that honour, it was the lemons with their spirals of peel that have continued to astonish. There is something meditative in the simplicity of the fruit and the twists and turns the peel has taken.’

Mark Hedges is Editor-in-Chief of Country Life.

Charlotte Mullins comments on Peeled Lemons

Eliot Hodgkin had the eye of a Victorian naturalist and the skill of a Dutch Golden Age painter. For much of his life, he painted the natural world, from peonies to plantain, toadstools to turnips. He completed paintings of British flora and fauna throughout the calendar year, like a postwar Book of Hours, as well as many studies of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

These lemons were painted in 1958, the year he held his first solo show in America. Hodgkin had a modest number of solo shows in his lifetime, but he was a stalwart exhibitor at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, where Peeled Lemons was first shown. There is nothing superfluous in this painting; nothing distracts from the three fruits and two lemon wedges seen slightly from above, their skins carefully spiralling away. We can see their juicy flesh, opaque white pith, pitted skin and the green nubs where they once hung from the tree.

Hodgkin painted in tempera, a quick-drying medium made from binding pigment with egg yolk (a method he learned from his friend and former teacher Maxwell Armfield). He preferred it to oils, enjoying its speed and how it allowed him to achieve exacting definition. As he wrote in 1946: ‘Why tempera?… Because tempera enables me most nearly to achieve the effects I am aiming at… I try to show things exactly as they are, yet with some of their mystery and poetry, and as though seen for the first time.’

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