Hodgkin's portraits of his friends are his version of the artist's perennial theme of figures in a landscape, interior or exterior. They can be viewed in the light of a certain art historical reading, the struggle between figuration and abstraction. His decorative, colourful, often beautiful patternings are part of the continuum of twentieth-century modernism. The Buckleys at Brede, on one level, is an intimate, domestic-scale rendition of a couple at home, akin to Vuillard's seemingly simple scenes of family life. Or the painting can be seen as an answer to, an echo of, or a challenge to, Matisse's colourist Post-Impressionist response to Picasso's inquiry into modernity, the Cubist interrogation of form.
If Hodgkin is considered mainly as a painter of the senses, a colourist, The Buckleys at Brede 1974-76 remains a double portrait in an interior, an abstracted account of his friends, the painter Stephen Buckley and his wife Stephanie. The artist wrote of the work, along with a larger version of the same date, Mr and Mrs Stephen Buckley 1974-76 that 'both paintings were the result of staying for the week with the Buckleys in a house they had borrowed at Brede near Rye, Sussex. The subject of the picture is simply a family group sitting round a fire in the evening. I think the time of year must have been autumn, as I remember it was quite chilly.'
The Buckleys at Brede seems only to represent a known couple, a known place, at an indefinite time. These givens allow Hodgkin to play with the hottest colours - pink, orange, turquoise - as well as sensuously curved lines and forms contrasted with sprightly dots and straight bands. The opulence of the artist's colour and patterning contrasts with his means, the traditional medium of oil paint combined with the masking tape of the lower stripe, on the surface of an industrial wooden panel. The strategy of painting the frame refutes the idea of an uncrossable boundary between the work of art and the 'real' world.
- held Tate Gallery, London
- letter of 2 June 1980, quoted in The Tate Gallery 1980-82, Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, p.140, cited in Price p.166
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010