MAGGI HAMBLING CBE is a British artist born on this date. Though principally a painter her best-known public works are the sculptures A Conversation with Oscar Wilde and A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft in London, and the 4-metre-high steel Scallop on Aldeburgh beach. All three works have attracted controversy.
Hambling is known for her intricate land and seascapes, including a celebrated series of North Sea paintings. Among her portraits, several works are held by the National Portrait Gallery, London.
In 1980 Hambling became the first artist in residence at the National Gallery, after which she produced a series of portraits of the comedian Max Wall. Wall responded to Hambling’s request to paint him with a letter saying: “Re: painting little me, I am flattered indeed – what color?” She has taught at Wimbledon School of Art.
Women feature prominently in her portrait series. Hambling was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to paint Professor Dorothy Hodgkin in 1985. The portrait features Hodgkin at a desk with four hands, all engaged in different tasks. Her wider body of work is held in many public collections including the British Museum, Tate Collection, National Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Hambling is known for painting the dead, including portraits of her parents and Henrietta Moraes in their coffins, saying that she “found it rather therapeutic to go on painting them after death”. George Melly was the subject of a series that documented his approach to death, and said she would go down in history as “Maggi ‘coffin’ Hambling”. Her work is spurred through anger—for the destruction of the planet, about politics, for social issues.
Hambling’s 1998 outdoor sculpture at Charing Cross in central London as a memorial to dramatist Oscar Wilde, the first public monument to him outside his native Ireland.
Derek Jarman first suggested a memorial in the 1980s and a committee chaired by Sir Jeremy Isaacs including actors Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen and the poet Seamus Heaney, raised the money and commissioned Hambling. Her design features Wilde rising from a polished green granite coffin holding a cigarette. The coffin is intended to serve as a public bench rather than the more conventional stone plinth, hence Hambling’s name for the memorial A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, as visitors sit next to the writer’s effigy. The work bears a quotation from Lady Windermere’s Fan: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Scallop (2003) celebrates the composer Benjamin Britten and stands on the beach outside Aldeburgh, Suffolk, near Britten’s homes and not far from Hambling’s village. The 13 foot tall, cast stainless steel sculpture is in the form of the two fractured halves of a scallop shell, etched with the quotation from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes: “I hear those voices that will not be drowned.”
In May 2018, Hambling was chosen to create a statue commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft, the “foremother of feminism”. The Mary on the Green campaign was working to erect a permanent memorial to the philosopher and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman since 2011. It chose Hambling for the sculpture unanimously. Hambling’s design features a figure – described as an everywoman – emerging out of organic matter. It is inspired by Wollstonecraft’s claim to be “the first of a new genus”. Wollstonecraft’s famous quotation, “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves”, appears on the plinth.
She has also been chosen by The Friends of Edward Carpenter, an English group dedicated to establishing a permanent memorial to Edward Carpenter, an early gay rights pioneer, in Sheffield City Center, recognizing his historical and social importance and his unique association with the city.
Hambling describes herself as “lesbionic” (her term). She formed a relationship with a fellow artist, Victoria (“Tory”) Dennistoun, from a family of horse racing jockeys and trainers, who was married to John Lawrence (Lord Oaksey), an aristocrat and horse-racing journalist. Their marriage broke up in splashy, and unhappy fasion in the mid-1980s. Lawrence and Hambling have been together ever since, living in a cottage in Suffolk. The house was left to Hambling by Lady Gwatkin, widow of Norman Gwatkin.
For the last year of the life of Henrietta Moraes, she and Hambling were in a relationship. The artists’ model, muse and memoirist died in 1999 and Hambling produced a posthumous volume of charcoal portraits of her.