Recognized today as one of Britain’s leading artists, Hugo Grenville passed through careers as a soldier and then an art dealer before turning full-time to painting in 1989. He had many solo exhibitions since his first in London in 1974, and his work hangs in many public and private collections internationally.
Grenville refers to himself as a romantic, but acknowledges a fascination with pattern and color that places him in the tradition of Henri Matisse. The figure subjects and the everyday objects that surround them in his paintings express joy in life, light and color. Less evident, but equally important, is a feeling of intimacy that recalls Matisse’s contemporaries, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. It is here that we see Grenville being influenced by the principles of Les Nabis – a group of young post-impressionists, avant-garde Parisian artists of the 1890s who influenced the fine arts at the turn of the century. Bonnard, Vuillard and Maurice Denis became the best known of the group. One of Les Nabis’ goals was to integrate daily life into their paintings as we see Grenville doing with such grace and sensitivity. The Nabis approach to cover a flat surface with colors assembled in a certain order is another principle Grenville follows. Layers of feeling peel back to disclose a spiritual intensity. In the artist’s words, “the world around us becomes a poem revealing something about how it feels rather than how it looks.” Grenville also describes himself as a colorist. His palette is bright and jaunty: lemon yellow, violet, mauve and pale blue are colors that appear regularly in his paintings. “The sea does not have to be the blue that you saw,” he explains. “It can be pink or it might be red or it might be violet. There is this sense that we can use color as a tool for linking the viewer with the emotional experience of being in the landscape.” Several years ago, Grenville and his family moved from London to the “Red House” in Waveney Valley, Suffolk. Although the house, dating to 1650, still had its lovely Georgian façade, beautiful old shutters, and many other period details, Grenville was at first immobilized by the sheer scale of the renovation; however, his essential optimism and passion for color, so evident in his art, carried the day and he was soon painting the interior peacock green, duck egg blue and violet – bright, bold hues the Georgians would have used. The rooms of the “Red House” have provided the backgrounds for most of Grenville’s interior and still life paintings. The nearby Suffolk coast and water meadows inspire his landscapes and seascapes. Grenville paints almost ceaselessly in his vast garden studio, which he shares in summer with his many students. In teaching, Grenville finds a way to give back. “I find teaching incredibly stimulating and rewarding,” he says. “It takes me out of my internal world.” In addition to teaching, he is a gifted lecturer with an extensive knowledge of art history and a writer whose articles on painting appear regularly in The Artist Magazine. Looking at his work from the early 1990’s, Grenville is surprised at how much it has changed, from the dark earthy tone of his period in London, to the bright, cheerful, color palette he uses today. Grenville’s is an optimistic world, a place of reverie full of color and light.