Artist Profile: Maggi Hambling

16 December 2021

Maggi Hambling CBE is a visual artist largely known for her intimate portraits, sea paintings and public sculptures including A Conversation with Oscar Wilde (1998), Scallop (2003) celebrating the composer Benjamin Britten, and most recently A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft (2020).

This month’s Artist Profile focuses on Hambling’s prolific career and her work Drawing from life: back view (1965), which is currently on view in Seen, a National Partners Programme Exhibition at The Exchange in Penzance.

Hambling made this early work during a life drawing class at the Camberwell School of Art in the mid-1960’s. Hambling has continued to explore the human form in some of her work and she is celebrated for her portraits of friends, family and famous figures, some of which are held in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

In the Bloomberg film Brilliant Ideas: Maggi Hambling featuring the artist and her exhibition Touch: Works on Paper at the British Museum in 2016, Hambling talks about how drawing is at the centre of her practice. Art critic Louisa Buck explains that drawing is the absolute starting point of Hambling’s work and that she makes a drawing every morning. As the title of the British Museum exhibition references, touch is important to Hambling’s work. It is through touch and the physical making of the work that Hambling understands her subject. Her intense eye translates her subject in utmost detail, capturing all emotion and liveliness on paper.


Hambling said: “I believe the subject chooses the artist, not vice versa, and that subject must then be in charge during the act of drawing in order for the truth to be found. Eye and hand attempt to discover and produce those precise marks which recreate what the heart feels. The challenge is to touch the subject, with all the desire of a lover.” 

Drawing from life: back view is a unique insight into the early part of an artist’s career as she experimented with materials and subject matters whilst at art school. This gestural yet gentle depiction of a female model is one of a selection of works from the Arts Council Collection in the exhibition Seen, co-curated by young LGBTQIA+ people aged 11-19 in Cornwall. For the young curators, it was important that the exhibition featured artists from the LGBTQIA+ community. Hambling’s drawing is joined by other works by queer iconic artists such as David Hockney, Francis Bacon, David Robilliard, Duncan Grant, Sunil Gupta, Gilbert & George, and Howard Hodgkin.

Seen is on view at The Exchange until 08 January 2022.

Click here to download the exhibition learning pack created by DECODER, an artist led LGBTQIA+ organisation expanding the Queer gaze from West Cornwall.

Related Content


An Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme Exhibition co-curated by young LGBTQIA+ people from Cornwall aged between 11 – 19 working in partnership with LGBT+ charity The Intercom Trust
National Partners Exhibitions

Explore exhibitions from the second round of National Partners for 2019-22:  Firstsite in Essex; Sunderland Culture in Tyne and Wear and Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange in Cornwall.
Palace of Culture

Step inside a virtual Palace using the latest computer-generated imagery, created in collaboration with V21 Artspace, Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange and Arts Council Collection

The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.