Maggi Hambling

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Maggi Hambling

Maggi Hambling 2006.jpg
Hambling in 2006
Born (1945-10-23) 23 October 1945 (age 77)[1]
Known forpainting, sculpture

Margaret ("Maggi") J. Hambling[2] CBE (born 23 October 1945) is a British artist. 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.[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Maggi Hambling was born in Sudbury, Suffolk[5] to Barclays bank cashier and local politician Harry Smyth Leonard Hambling (1902-1998) and Marjorie (née Harris: 1907-1988).[6][7][8] She had two siblings, a sister, Ann, who was 11 years older, and a brother, Roger, nine years older than Hambling. Her brother had wanted a younger brother but ignored the fact that his new sibling was female and taught her carpentry and "how to wring a chicken's neck." Hambling was close to her mother who taught ballroom dancing and took Hambling along to be her partner. It was from her father that she inherited her artistic skills. She was not as close to him as she was to her mother but when her father retired at the age of 60, she gave him some oil paints and discovered that he had a knack for painting; he went on to have seven well-received solo shows, and exhibited twice at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition; his paintings were owned by George Melly, Delia Smith, and Paul Bailey, among others, and are held in public and private collections including in America and Australia.[9][10]

Hambling first studied art under Yvonne Drewry at the Amberfield School in Nacton. She then studied at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing from 1960 under Cedric Morris and Lett Haines at Benton End, then at Ipswich School of Art (1962–64), Camberwell (1964–67), and finally the Slade School of Art at UCL, graduating in 1969.[11]


Hambling is known for her intricate land and seascapes, including a celebrated series of North Sea paintings.[12] Among her portraits, several works are held by the National Portrait Gallery, London.[13]

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.[14] Wall responded to Hambling's request to paint him with a letter saying: "Re: painting little me, I am flattered indeed – what colour?"[5][15] She has taught at Wimbledon School of Art.[16]

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.[17] 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[10] and Henrietta Moraes in their coffins, saying that she "found it rather therapeutic to go on painting them after death".[18] 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".[18] Some of her recent work is spurred through anger—for the destruction of the planet, about politics, for social issues.[19] She has also said that "Making a work of art is making a work of love."[20]

In 2013, she exhibited at Snape during the Aldeburgh Festival, and a solo exhibition was held at the Hermitage, St Petersburg.[citation needed]

Hambling is a patron of Paintings in Hospitals, a charity that provides art for health and social care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.[21]

Works of public sculpture[edit]

A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, central London.

Memorial to Oscar Wilde[edit]

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.[22]

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.[23] 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."[23]

Some critics were severe in their criticism of the work,[24] but supporters said it was well-loved by the public.[25] The chief art critic of The Independent[26] wrote that ultimately the sculpture was not about Wilde or the viewing public, but a reflection of Hambling herself.[27] The cigarette was repeatedly removed,[28] "the most frequent act of vandalism/veneration to a public statue in London",[29] and is now no longer replaced.

Memorial to Benjamin Britten[edit]

Hambling's Scallop stands on the north end of Aldeburgh beach.

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.[30] The four-metre-high (13 ft) 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."

Hambling describes Scallop as a conversation with the sea:

"An important part of my concept is that at the centre of the sculpture, where the sound of the waves and the winds are focused, a visitor may sit and contemplate the mysterious power of the sea."[31]

Opponents claimed the sculpture ruined a previously unspoilt stretch of beach. A local petition against it attracted several hundred signatures and it has been vandalised a number of times.[32][33]

For this work, Hambling received the 2006 Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture.[34]

Memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft[edit]

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.[35]

The work, A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft, was unveiled in Newington Green, north London, on 10 November 2020,[36] across from the Newington Green Unitarian Church, where Wollstonecraft worshipped.[37] Newington Green is known as the birthplace of feminism because of Wollstonecraft's roots there, and is where Wollstonecraft moved her school for girls from Islington in 1784.[38]

The sculpture sparked a backlash. British feminist author Caroline Criado Perez called it "catastrophically wrong" and said, "I honestly feel that actually this representation is insulting to [Wollstonecraft]. I can't see her feeling happy to be represented by this naked, perfectly formed wet dream of a woman."[4] Hambling defended her decision, saying that "clothes would have restricted her. Statues in historic costume look like they belong to history because of their clothes. It's crucial that she is 'now'."[39] The design of the statue was in deliberate opposition to "traditional male heroic statuary" of the Victorian era, the campaigners behind it describing the figure as someone who has "evolved organically from, is supported by, and does not forget, all her predecessors."[40]


In 1995, she was awarded the Jerwood Painting Prize[41] (with Patrick Caulfield). In the same year she was awarded an OBE for her services to painting. In 2005, she received the Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture for Scallop.

In the 2010 New Year Honours, she was awarded a CBE for services to art.

Personal life[edit]

Hambling described herself as "lesbionic" (her adjective).[20] She formed a relationship with a fellow artist,[42] Victoria (“Tory”) Dennistoun, from a family of horse racing jockeys and trainers,[43] who was married to John Lawrence (later Lord Oaksey), aristocrat and horse racing journalist. Lord and Lady Oaksey's "marriage broke up in unhappily public fashion in the mid-1980s".[44] Tory Lawrence and Hambling have been together ever since, living in a cottage near Saxmundham in Suffolk.[45] The house was left to Hambling by Lady Gwatkin (Isolen Mary June Wilson), widow of Norman Gwatkin.

For the last year of the life of Henrietta Moraes, she and Hambling were in a relationship. The artists' model, Soho muse, and memoirist died in 1999 and Hambling produced a posthumous volume of charcoal portraits of her.[46]

She once said that she would not speak during a television show if she could not smoke. The camerawoman had stated she would not work with someone who did; Hambling stuck to her word and did not speak.[47]

Political views[edit]

Hambling gave up smoking in 2004 and was involved in the campaign against the total ban on smoking in public places in England which took effect on 1 July 2007. Speaking at a news conference at the House of Commons on 7 February 2007, she said: "I wholeheartedly support the campaign against a ban on smoking in public places. Just because I gave up at 59, other people may choose not to. There must be freedom of choice, something that is fast disappearing in this so-called free country."[48] She took up smoking again on her 65th birthday but only 'the ones that smell of toothpaste'.[45]

In August 2014, Hambling was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[49]


  1. ^ [s.n.] (31 October 2011). Hambling, Maggi. Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/benz/9780199773787.article.B00300039. (subscription required). Accessed October 2018.
  2. ^ "Suffolk Artists - HAMBLING, Maggi".
  3. ^ Kennedy, Maev (3 November 2003). "A word in your shell-like: get that monstrosity off our beach". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  4. ^ a b Topping, Alexandra (10 November 2020). "'Insulting to her': Mary Wollstonecraft sculpture sparks backlash". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  5. ^ a b Bredin, Lucinda (18 May 2002). "A matter of life and death". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  6. ^ "Obituary: Harry Hambling". 30 January 1998.
  7. ^ "Suffolk Artists - HAMBLING, Harry".
  8. ^ "Collections Online | British Museum".
  9. ^ "Obituary: Harry Hambling". 30 January 1998.
  10. ^ a b Rix, Juliet (24 March 2017). "Maggi Hambling: 'I am relieved for my grandchildren that they are non-existent'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  11. ^ "Maggi Hambling biography". Tate Gallery. 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2006.
  12. ^ Great Women Artists. Phaidon Press. 2019. p. 169. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  13. ^ "Maggi Hambling (1945–), Painter". National Portrait Gallery. 2006. Retrieved 1 October 2006.
  14. ^ [s.n.] (2003). Hambling, Maggi. Grove Art Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T036357. (subscription required). Accessed October 2018.
  15. ^ Clark, Alex (22 January 2006). "Hambling for the defence". Observer Review & Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  16. ^ Wimbledon College of Art: About Wimbledon: Alumni: Alumni List. University of the Arts London. Retrieved August 2013.
  17. ^ Foster, Alicia (2004). Tate Women Artistis. London: Tate Publishing. pp. 204–205. ISBN 1-85437-311-0.
  18. ^ a b Rigg, Natalie (2 March 2017). "The Surprisingly Lively Home of a Controversial Artist". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  19. ^ Andrew Clarke (9 March 2017). "Maggi Hambling creates new show about life on the edge". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 17 November 2022. They are quite angry pictures. A casual glance may lead you to think that this exhibition is made up of three different subjects but actually they are all about the same thing – uncertainty. We are living in uncertain times. We are living on the edge.
  20. ^ a b "Maggi Hambling: 'I was put forward to paint the Queen Mother but the word came back saying I was a bit risky'". The Independent. 1 May 2010. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  21. ^ Wrathall, Claire (13 October 2017). "Exploring the palliative power of art". Retrieved 18 December 2018.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ "Oscar Wilde Memorial Sculpture". Dublin City Council. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  23. ^ a b "London's Wilde tribute". BBC. 30 November 1998. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  24. ^ Spencer, Charles (22 September 2009). "Maggi Hambling's sculptures I'd love to smash". Archived from the original on 25 June 2015. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  25. ^ "Right of Reply: Jeremy Isaacs". The Independent. 3 December 1998.
  26. ^ Jackson, Kevin (10 January 2011). "Tom Lubbock obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  27. ^ Lubbock, Tom (1 December 1998). "It's got to go". The Independent. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  28. ^ Ardagh, Philip (2007). Philip Ardagh's book of absolutely useless lists, absurd facts, lies, half-truths, thoughts, suggestions and musings for every day of the year. London: Macmillan Children's. p. 468. ISBN 9780230700505.
  29. ^ Jenkins, Terence (2016). The Most Dangerous Woman in Europe: (And Other Londoners). p. 17. ISBN 9781785893186.
  30. ^ Andrew Woodger (23 September 2009). Maggi Hambling's sea paintings & the Aldeburgh Scallop. BBC Suffolk. Accessed October 2018.
  31. ^ "Scallop: a celebration of Benjamin Britten". OneSuffolk. Archived from the original on 31 August 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2006.
  32. ^ Ezard, John (6 January 2004). "Aldeburgh wants shot of Britten shell". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  33. ^ Barnes, Jonathan (5 January 2012). "Aldeburgh: Scallop vandal fails to cover their tracks". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  34. ^ "Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture". Marsh Christian Trust. Archived from the original on 2 April 2019. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  35. ^ Slawson, Nicola (16 May 2018) "Maggi Hambling picked to create Mary Wollstonecraft statue", The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2018
  36. ^ "Covid: Maggi Hambling unveils 75th birthday lockdown works". BBC News. 14 October 2020. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  37. ^ Tomalin, Claire (1992). The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (rev. ed. 1992). London: Penguin Books. p. 60. ISBN 9780140167610.
  38. ^ Jacobs, Diane (2001). Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Simon & Schuster. pp. 334. Page 38. ISBN 9780684810935.
  39. ^ Dex, Robert (12 November 2020). "Artist behind Mary Wollstonecraft statue say critics missed the point". Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  40. ^ "Mary Wollstonecraft finally honoured with statue after 200 years". The Independent. 10 November 2020. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  41. ^ Lynn Barber (2 December 2007). A Life in Pictures, The Interview: Maggi Hambling. The Observer. Accessed October 2018.
  42. ^ "Suffolk Artists". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  43. ^ "Ginnie James". 23 February 2008. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  44. ^ "Lord Oaksey". 5 September 2012.
  45. ^ a b A Life in the Day: Maggi Hambling, artist | The Sunday Times Magazine. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  46. ^ Berger, John (2001). The last 235 days. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 07475-5589-3.
  47. ^ Calkin, Jessamy (14 January 2017). "Meet Britain's most straight-talking and foul-mouthed artist, Maggi Hambling". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  48. ^ "Opposition to total smoking ban widens". Forest – Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco. 2007. Archived from the original on 8 December 2006. Retrieved 7 February 2007.
  49. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.

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