Richard Hamilton's great Late Works at the National Gallery

Oct 11, 2012

This enigmatic and coolly beautiful show reveals the genius of Britain's leading pop artist

Richard Hamilton The Late Works National Gallery

What you need to know
Before his death in 2011 at the age of 89, the influential British pop artist Richard Hamilton was creating new work specifically for a major exhibition at the National Gallery. Now the gallery is posthumously presenting the show he had planned: Richard Hamilton: Late Works.

Hamilton first rose to prominence in the 1950s with his collage works such as Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? considered by many to be one of the seminal early works of pop art.

The National Gallery exhibition features 30 paintings selected by Hamilton from the latter decades of his career, including works never seen in public before, and three variations of his last piece, The Balzac, based on Balzac's short story The Unknown Masterpiece.

Runs at the National Gallery until 13 January.

What the critics like
Richard Hamilton has left a startling legacy, says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. This series of "enigmatic and coolly beautiful" final works delight in the power of art to make fictional places, and laugh at the ease with which art can destroy that illusion. Hamilton "calmly distils the essence of his art in an exhibition only a genius could have created".

This is a mysterious and intriguing show, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. Hamilton's multi-layered works culminate in his Balzac series, dense with art historical quotation, modern digital image making and allegorical richness "to keep art lovers guessing for decades to come". More than just encapsulating Hamilton's lifelong fascinations, "it evokes his future vision even as his life closed".

Everyone should see this show, says Ashley Heath on The Pop. Make your way straight to Richard Hamilton's last work, known as The Balzac. This "staggering" work ties up so many different strands of Hamilton's incredible artistic output - eroticism, humanity, perspective, technology, mythology. It could "captivate you for many years".

What they don't like
The punctilious design of the exhibition space, always so integral to Hamilton's conceptions, has not been achieved as he had originally intended, says Campbell-Johnston in The Times. Nevertheless, "the simpler hang", which curators have opted for, still manages to capture a sense of his distinctive complexity and allusive layering.

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