John Bratby Biography

English painter, writer and teacher. He studied at the Kingston College of Art (1948–50) and later at the Royal College of Art (1951–4), where he was awarded a bursary to travel in Italy. However, he was not very stimulated by the art he saw there and subsequently preferred not to travel; his taste for domestic life in England is reflected in his painting (e.g. Window, Self-portrait, Jean and Hands, 1957; London, Tate).

He worked in a harsh realist style, applying the paint thickly in vibrant colours, and portraying sometimes ugly and desperate faces. He primarily chose his family as subjects and incorporated all the clutter of urban domestic life in his paintings (e.g. Still-Life with Chipfryer, 1954; London, Tate). It was this concern with social realism that brought Bratby into contact with Jack Smith (b.1928) , Edward Middleditch (b.1923) and Derrick Greaves (b .1927), and these artists became the main exponents of what critics dubbed 'the Kitchen sink school'. However, while the Kitchen Sink artists (also sometimes known as the Beaux Arts Quartet) shared a desire to depict the banality of a working-class domestic environment, Bratby's use of colours and his more middle-class surroundings distinguished his style from that of his peers.

Bratby taught for two brief periods, first at Carlisle College of Art (1956) and then at the Royal College of Art in London (1957–8). In the late 1960s he started a series of portraits of celebrities, including the actress Billie Whitelaw (1967; priv. col., see N.P.G. exh. cat., p. 33); the series developed into a Hall of Fame during the 1970's and 1980's. In 1973 he started divorce proceedings against Jean, his first wife, and met Patti Prime, via an advert placed in 'Time Out', who was to become his second wife and constant companion until his death.

He painted many cityscapes on trips abroad (mostly Venice, which Patti introduced him too) in the 1980's, but concentrated on self-portraits and portraits of his second wife in intimate poses with bright colours and an economy of line. Bratby was also a successful novelist.

His work is held in many prestigious public and private collections throughout the world.