Hamilton’s Odyssey into Ulysses


13 June – 31 August 2014

Recommend this exhibition

A substantial collection of drawings and prints by Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

Richard Hamilton, who has been the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Modern this year and is best known for his work as a pop artist in the 1960s, spent fifty years giving visual expression to his love of James Joyce’s great modernist masterpiece, Ulysses, which recounts Leopold Bloom wandering around Dublin on 16 June 1904. Ulysses was first published in Paris in 1922, the year of Hamilton’s birth.

Hamilton first read Ulysses while on National Service in 1947 before studying painting at the Slade School of Art. The collection consists of 95 works on paper, the earliest of which date from 1948. Hamilton returned to the subject in the early 1980s and in the next two decades produced over 60 preliminary drawings, studies and preparatory states before the final etchings. In 2002 the British Museum curated a landmark exhibition 'Imaging Ulysses' which featured these works. After the exhibition, Hamilton donated eight of the final etchings to the British Museum.

The collection is in many ways the odyssey of Hamilton’s own artistic career and reflects his life-long interest in Irish culture and politics and his unique artistic experimentation. Its stylistic variety provides visual paraphrases of Joyce’s own linguistic inventiveness and demonstrates Hamilton’s skills as a draughtsman and printmaker.

This collection has been accepted from the artist’s estate by H M Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the British Museum. This allocation from the AIL scheme has transformed the Museum’s holdings of Hamilton’s works.

  • Stately plump Buck Mulligan

    Richard Hamilton (1922–2011), Stately plump Buck Mulligan Ink and watercolour on paper, 1948. © Estate of Richard Hamilton

  • In Horne's house

    Richard Hamilton (1922–2011), In Horne's house - study II. Pen and ink over graphite grid on paper, 1949. Reworked in 1981 with graphite and grey and white washes. © Estate of Richard Hamilton

  • Going to dark bed

    Richard Hamilton (1922–2011), Going to dark bed. Pen and ink and wash on paper, 1949. © Estate of Richard Hamilton