Patrick Heron CBE British, 1920-1999

Patrick Heron (b. 1920, Leeds, England; d. 1999, St Ives, England) was a British artist and critic recognised as one of the leading painters of his generation. Influenced by Cezanne, Matisse, Braque and Bonnard, Heron made a significant contribution to the dissemination of modernist ideas of painting through his critical writing and primarily his art.

Heron's artworks are most noted for his exploration and use of colour and light. He is known for both his early figurative work and non-figurative works, which over the years looked to explore further the idea of making all areas of the painting of equal importance. His work was exhibited widely throughout his career and while he wrote regularly early in his career, notably for New Statesman and Arts New York, this continued periodically in later years.

Born 30 January 1920 at Headingley, Leeds in Yorkshire, Heron was the eldest child of Thomas [Tom] Milner Heron and Eulalie 'Jack' Heron [née Davies]. The family moved to Cornwall where Heron was five where Tom joined Alec Walker at Crysede to manage and expand the business from artist-designed wood-block prints on silk to include garment-making and retail. The family moved again in 1929 to Welwyn Garden City where Tom established Cresta Silks. Notable designers including Edward McKnight Kauffer and Wells Coates, Paul Nash and Cedric Morris worked with Cresta, and Heron also created fabric designs for the firm from his teenage years. At school, Heron met his future wife Delia Reiss, daughter of Celia and Richard Reiss, a director of the company that founded Welwyn Garden City.

Registered as a conscientious objector in World War II, Heron worked as an agricultural labourer in Cambridgeshire before he was signed off for ill health. He returned to Cornwall to work for Bernard Leach at the Leach Pottery, St Ives, in 1944-45. During this time, he met many leading artists of the St Ives School, including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. Reacquainted with Cornwall, Heron spent each summer there until it became his permanent home in 1956 after his purchase and refurbishment of Eagles Nest the year before from Mark Arnold-Forster, a house Heron had lived in during his childhood. He would spend the rest of his life here, until he died at home in March 1999.

Patrick and Delia married in 1945 and had two daughters, architect and educator Katharine [born 1947] and Susanna [born 1949], a sculptor.

Heron was awarded a CBE in 1977 under Harold Wilson, but rejected a knighthood under Margaret Thatcher.

Heron's early works were strongly influenced by artists including Matisse, Bonnard, Braque and Cezanne. Throughout his career, Heron worked in a variety of media, from the silk scarves he designed for his father’s company Cresta from the age of 14, to a stained-glass window for Tate St Ives, but he was foremost a painter working in oils and gouache.

Heron first saw the paintings of Paul Cézanne at an exhibition at the National Gallery in 1933, an influence which continued throughout his career. Having seen The Red Studio by Matisse (one of his other significant influences) at the Redfern Gallery in 1943, Heron completed The Piano, which he considered to be his first mature work. His first solo exhibition was held in 1947 at the Redfern Gallery, London. That same year, Heron began a series of portraits of TS Eliot, one of which was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1966. In 2013 this highly abstracted portrait was the centre of an exhibition at the gallery, displayed for the first time alongside a selection of Heron’s original studies from life and memory from which it was produced.