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John Minton A productive short life Part 1

January 22, 2018

Recently I came across the amazing work of John Minton and decided to look further into his background and extensive portfolio of painting and illustration. The more I discovered, the more I wanted to learn, and this researching turned into a four post feature spread out over this week, that delves into the history of this talented yet tormented artist. I hope you’ll join me to see where the journey of John Minton’s work takes us.

Francis John Minton (25 December 1917 – 20 January 1957) was an English painter, illustrator, stage designer and teacher. In the mid-1950s, Minton found himself out of sympathy with the abstract trend that was then becoming fashionable, and felt increasingly sidelined. He suffered psychological problems, worried about his sexuality, self-medicated with alcohol, and in 1957 committed suicide, he was just 39 !

2017 marked 60 years since his death and with this in mind, there was a retrospective exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery and in late October the release of a book called “The Snail that Climbed the Eiffel Tower and other work by John Minton”  by The Mainstone Press and written by Martin Salisbury. More about this publication to come in Part 4 of John’s story.

I set out to discover more about this fascinating character and uncover more of his art and illustration for myself.

Born in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, John was the second of three sons of Francis Minton, a solicitor, and his wife, Kate. From 1925 to 1932, he was educated at Northcliff House, Bognor Regis, Sussex, and then from 1932 to 1935 at Reading School. He studied art at St John’s Wood School of Art from 1935 to 1938, and was greatly influenced by his fellow student Michael Ayrton, who enthused him with the work of French neo-romantic painters. He spent eight months studying in France, frequently accompanied by Ayrton, and returned from Paris when the Second World War began.

His figurative work shows a deep understanding of the human form and his talent shines in being able to capture their characters and personalities through these drawings/paintings too.

He uses a few different styles of painting to work on his subjects, some more realistic, some hints of cubism in there too.

In October 1939 Minton registered as a conscientious objector, but in 1941 changed his views and joined the Pioneer Corps. He was commissioned in 1943, but was discharged on medical grounds in the same year. While in the army, Minton, with Ayrton, designed the costumes and scenery for John Gielgud’s 1942 production of Macbeth. The settings moved the piece from the 11th century to “the age of illuminated missals”; The Manchester Guardian wrote that they “should be long remembered”. In the same year he and Ayrton held a joint exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London. The Times wrote, “Mr. Minton is seen to have an overcast, gloomy realism, and much intensity of feeling, which he expresses in dark colour schemes, both in a curious and effective self-portrait and in paintings of streets and bombed buildings.”

London, where he lived, was definitely his stage, to be observed and captured.

” The flattened perspective in these type of pictures embraces barges in the foreground and the jumble of warehouses on the far bank in the background. Typically, this image includes a pair of male figures. Minton’s sexuality was central to his work and these dockland images embody the frustration he felt as a gay man at a time when sex between men was illegal.

John Minton’s only commission for London Transport came from publicity officer, Harold F. Hutchison in the form of a ‘pair poster’ titled London’s River. This concept involved posters designed in adjoining pairs, with one side featuring a striking pictorial image and the other containing text. The familiar dockland images are reworked here in gouache, in similar manner to the series of paintings commissioned for Lilliput in July 1947, London River. ” (Martin Salisbury)

John Minton was one of the artists who regularly attended Wheeler’s restaurant and the Colony room during the 1950s. As well as being a figurative painter he also turned his hand to book illustration, poster designs and theatrical costumes. In 1950, he asked Bacon to fill in for him as tutor at the Royal College of Art for a single term. Bacon accepted on the understanding that he would not have to give formal lessons (he had never taken any himself) and that he would have the use of a studio. Perhaps because of his non-didactic approach, he attracted a significant following among students. In contrast to Bacon’s increasing painterly confidence, Minton became less certain of his artistic gifts. His last years were overshadowed by heavy drinking and depression, and in 1957 he took his own life by taking an overdose of sleeping tablets.

I’d like to share more of his work with you over the next few posts, I hope by the end of this week, you’ll also appreciate what a highly productive and talented artist he really was. See you here tomorrow !

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Helen permalink
    January 22, 2018 12:23 pm

    So many overtones in there – Cubism yes, and so much more. Really interesting article. Many thanks for the read

    • January 22, 2018 1:21 pm

      Thanks Helen, more to come on John’s work this week too. Do check back in if you get the chance.

  2. January 22, 2018 10:30 pm

    I confess that I had never heard of John Minton before reading your introduction. I look forward to reading and seeing more.

    • January 22, 2018 10:40 pm

      Great to introduce his work to you today Laura, thanks for letting me know.

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