John Minton at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

One of several illustrations by John Minton for a 1947 book, Time Was Away, a Notebook in Corsica by Alan Ross, Ajaccio Harbour, Corsica is currently on loan to John Minton: A Centenary at Pallant House, Chichester until 1 October. Marking the centenary of the artist's birth, this major exhibition features paintings, illustrations and prints produced in Minton's characteristic figurative style.

Ajaccio Harbour, Corsica

© Estate of the Artist

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Quirky lines and lively strokes in Minton's pen and ink drawing marks out the buildings, hills and moored boats around the port of Ajaccio, Corsica. Along with Ile Rousse and St Florent, Ajaccio was one of several fishing ports on the island that Minton sketched during his visit in 1947. That year he accompanied the poet Allan Ross there at the suggestion of the publisher John Lehmann, a trip that resulted in the final book written by Ross and illustrated by Minton. During the three-week visit, Minton's sketch notebook records the sultriness and languor, the sticky heat, the encrustation and neglect of the beautiful island. Arriving first in Ajaccio, Minton was overwhelmed by the heat and colour of the island, a world away from grey, post-war London. In a letter to his friend Edie Lamont, he wrote:

Corsica is proving very exciting, full of Italianate romanticism. The drawings pile up … the Mediterranean heat is unbelievable.

Of the many books Minton worked on, Time and Away is the most widely admired. Soon after publication in 1948, it became a cult book among illustration students. Along with the 95 illustrations in the book, Minton produced other drawings and paintings as a result of the visit. 

After studying at St John's Wood Art School from 1935 to 1938, John Minton lived briefly in Paris, where French Neo-Romanticism and the work of Picasso influenced his own work. The central subject of many of his works were depictions of young men, often his friends and lovers. Despite the brevity of his career, he produced a significant body of work, holding eight solo exhibitions between 1945 and 1956. His book and commercial illustrations also give a characteristic flavour of the bohemian culture and jazz nights of London in the early 1950s. Until his death he taught at the Camberwell and Central Schools of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, where he was remembered as an inspiring teacher. One piece of advice to his students for which he is famously remembered is '… to draw in the morning, when fresh, so that you can enjoy yourself in the afternoon.'

Friends, students and lovers also remembered Minton as a melancholic character at times. By the mid 1950s, he had become increasingly disillusioned by the art world's focus on abstract art, and in 1957, at the age of 40, he ended his own life.

In more recent decades, Minton's work has received long overdue attention. Following his death, a memorial exhibition organised by the Arts Council was held in London in 1958; subsequent solo shows were held in Leicester (1964), Reading (1974); and a touring show in London, Eastbourne and Liverpool (1979). 'John Minton: Dance Till the Stars Come Down', a biography of the artist by Frances Spalding was published in 1991. Three years later, a major retrospective of his work toured to London, Bath, Llandudno and Newton.

Further Information

John Minton: A Centenary
Pallant House Gallery
9 North Pallant
West Sussex
PO19 1TJ

Telephone: 01243 774557
Email: info@pallant.org.uk