Best in show | Self-portrait, c.1960, by Hubert Arthur Finney - Museums Association

Best in show | Self-portrait, c.1960, by Hubert Arthur Finney

The Lightbox, Woking
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Self-portrait, c.1960, by Hubert Arthur Finney
Peter Hall
Head of exhibitions, The Lightbox

“Our new exhibition, Out of the Shadows, has been designed to shine a spotlight on the talents of a long-forgotten British artist. The title also refers to the way Hubert Arthur Finney went about his work.

A lot of his best paintings are interiors illuminated by artificial light, while his landscapes of the Berkshire and Surrey countryside were captured either in the early hours of the day or at dusk as the light began to fade.

It was that local connection that inspired this exhibition, mounted with the support of gallerists Liss Llewellyn who specialise in less-appreciated 20th-century British artists.

The show also links with the works we have on loan from the Ingram Collection – founded by local philanthropist Chris Ingram – which feature many of Finney’s more famous contemporaries.

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Finney was perceived by his tutors – who included British artists Percy Jowett, Eric Gill and William Rothenstein – to have been a prodigious talent, winning prizes and scholarships into his early 20s.

Until the second world war, he was very much on the same trajectory as the likes of the artists Eric Ravilious, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. But his career failed to take off after the war during which he had served with the Light Rescue Service of the Civil Defence.

While the work inspired Finney to produce a series of images of life on the home front, it may well have also contributed to his breathing problems.

As the art world shifted away from figurative imagery in favour of abstraction, Finney – who later taught at Chelsea School of Art – was unluckily left behind.

Finney was reclusive, shy and introspective and even though he was inwardly confident of his own artistic skills, he was not one to publicise his own work. In his recently-discovered memoir – which is the basis of the first book about him – he said his work was ‘a means of survival in the battle for living’.

I think the quality of the work is very high; some of the interiors are not dissimilar to the work of the post-impressionists, while his exteriors are up there with Edward Hopper, and his war pictures similar in scope to those produced by Henry Moore.

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Even though it is a rather conservative and orthodox work, I like this picture because he’s very determined, staring into the eye of the viewer and aligning himself with great self-portraits from art history.

There’s also great use of chiaroscuro in that very dark corner and the blast of white light across the large canvas in the background. Perhaps in a nod to his teaching career, he’s also dressed in a suit and tie, but there’s not a speck of paint anywhere on him.

Finney played the flute to help him overcome moments of anxiety and if you look at that beautifully-painted left hand, it is gently holding the brush with a cocked little finger just as a flautist plays their instrument.”

Interview by John Holt. Hubert Arthur Finney: Out of the Shadows is at the Lightbox, Woking, 15 January to 27 March

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