Until a couple of weeks ago, we’d never heard of Doris Hatt (1890-1969). When you consider that she spent most of her life as a painter in Clevedon, just a short distance away from our home in Bristol, that now seems very surprising. Then again, it appears that we weren’t alone in our ignorance, somehow this hugely talented artist had just slipped away from the consciousness of the art world. Well, luckily that has just been rectified, thanks to this really vibrant and fascinating exhibition.
If one were being flippant, you could say that Doris Hatt made three key mistakes, when it comes to becoming a recognised as an important figure in British 20th century art. Firstly she chose to stay in the West Country, rather than head off to the bright lights of London. Secondly she was an avowed Socialist and apparently wasn’t very bothered about making money. Thirdly there was the cardinal error of being a female artist, in a time when for some reason art was primarily the domain of men.
She didn’t appear to let that worry her though, she just concentrated on her work, and what brilliant work it is. Drawing strength from the Woman’s Suffrage movement, she was an avowed Feminist. Together with her lifelong partner Margery Mack Smith, they forged their own world, which burned brightly with artistic endeavour and revolutionary thought.
This collection of around 70 pieces takes us on a colourful and enchanting voyage through the 20th century. We see her use of colour, form and style develop in a very literal way. Hatt was fond of revisiting scenes, painting them anew in an array of differing styles as the years roll on. The pictures leap from the page, still oozing a contemporary modernity and vivacity.
Not content with being a painter she also designed her own magnificent house in the Bauhaus style. Apparently the house and it’s grounds became a centre for gatherings of left wing thinkers, gathering together in attempt to forge a more equal society. She even stood for election in Clevedon as a member of the Communist party. Clevedon wasn’t ready for Communism then (or now), so her ideas failed to find a larger audience.
Although widely travelled, she loved to paint scenes of her native West Country. It’s refreshing to see glimpses of Somerset, Bristol and Cornwall scattered amongst those of France and beyond. The work of Braque, Leger and Picasso inspired her to create her own form of British modernism. She continued to produce wonderful work into the 1960’s, always pushing forward and developing new ways of showcasing the life around her.
It would be lovely to think, that more of her work will come out of the shadows following the publicity that this exhibition has received from the national media. Just in case it doesn’t. try to get along to the Museum of Somerset in Taunton before June 29th.