I first met Christopher Hall about 30 years ago at the private view of the RA Summer Exhibition – in the days when artists were invited to a buffet lunch. I was fascinated by this quiet yet extremely amusing artist whose comments revealed a dry sense of humour.
We got to know each other over the following years and I never ceased to wonder at Chris’ amazing energy as an artist. He was constantly working in the open air in England, Wales, France and Italy gathering material for his uniquely naïve paintings. He was very proud of the fact that he had brought up his family of three boys entirely on painting and had never had a teaching job. He was also proud that he had been Mayor of Newbury and liked to point out that the only other artist-mayor was Piero della Francesca who had been mayor of Arezzo. Chris was constantly on the look - out for new galleries and new opportunities to sell his work. Yet despite this financial pressure, his work never became repetitive or commercial retaining its unique charm and sense of observation until the very end.
Chris studied at the Slade from 1950 to 1954 where landscape artist John Aldridge RA was his main influence and source of encouragement. William Coldstream admired his slightly naïve style and made jokes about his idiosyncratic approach to art. Chris later recalled that he had already found his personal ‘way’ of painting which was to change little over the years. On leaving the Slade Chris set off on a trip to Italy with fellow Slade students. Their means of transport was a 1930’s Mercedes which Hitler had gifted to King Zog of Albania. This enormous car had been discovered in a barn in Ireland and was fitted with a British tank engine by a father of one of the students who an engineer in the Army. The students went South to the picturesque town of Recanati and it was here in 1955 that Chris met Maria, his future wife. After his marriage, Recanati became a second home and Chris and Maria would return most summers to Italy. Chris was lucky to be offered an exhibition at the Portal Gallery where Vincent Price bought most of his pictures. It was the start of a long association with a number of galleries including the Rowan Gallery, the Albany Gallery in Wales, the New Grafton Gallery in Barnes where David Wolfers greatly admired Chris’ paintings, and more recently the Russell Gallery in Putney.
His father loved old buildings and had written travel books, interests which Chris inherited. During the 1970’s he explored the industrial towns of northern England such as Oldham, Leeds, Rochdale and Liverpool and he was constantly drawn back to London, especially the Georgian streets of Islington. North Wales was also a favourite painting place which he would often combine with a visit to his old friend Kyffin Williams RA. France and Italy both play a major role in his work and he looked out for old buildings, the remains of town walls, field patterns, vineyards, lavender plantations and all the details associated with the South. People play an important role in his paintings often providing an element of humour and incident. Chris’ technique was very personal – he would work on the spot achieving a first stage of composition and colour but the picture was finished in his studio using small brushes and an uncompromising concern for detail. The results were striking and highly original paintings stamped with his own personality.
I have many happy of memories of Chris. One summer, I think it was 1998, he came down to France with Bob Brown NEAC and the late Raymond Rogers and we all painted together. While we were painting more traditional scenes, Chris was out looking for the unusual. He came back one morning excited to have found a wall with a crumbling Dubonnet advertisement in a neighbouring village. Chris served as Membership Secretary of the RBA for many years and I would join him and Nick Tidnam looking at exhibitions in London, hunting for new talent. After a while Chris would always say ‘It’s time for a spot of lunch’ and we would retire to Jimmy’s, possibly the cheapest and certainly the worst Greek restaurant in London, housed in a basement in Soho. (The food critic of the Guardian famously wrote that Jimmy’s calamare were so tough that they would serve perfectly as tap washers). In these unusual surroundings we would discuss possible new RBA members.
I, and many other friends and members of the RBA, will miss Chris’ sense of fun, his idiosyncratic paintings and his kind personality. I will certainly miss ‘a spot of lunch at Jimmy’s’.