John Minton: A Centenary review – a wildly restless talent

By Laura Cumming

Pallant House, Chichester
Best known for his doleful self-portrait and early death, Minton was an artist with a fierce lust for life, as this fine show reveals

“Mystery of the gifted artist” was the Mirror‘s headline when the painter John Minton was found dying in his London studio at the age of 39. Detectives discovered a bottle of sleeping tablets close to the body. The mystery, it turns out, was not the means but the motive. For Minton was “gay, generous, successful, popular – and a man without financial worries”, or so the paper maintained. Why would he want to kill himself?

Leaving aside the fathomless complexity of the human condition, and the fact that Minton was a severely depressed alcoholic, there is a traditional answer to this question. The story goes that he simply lost his footing as a figurative painter in the brave new world of 1950s abstraction. This hardly seems to have affected the careers of drinking partners such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan or Lucian Freud. But it has some bearing, at the very least, on this beautifully curated centennial survey at Pallant House. Where, you wonder, in room after room, was this artist heading?

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