John Bratby

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John Bratby studied at the Kingston College of Art (1948-50) and later at the Royal College of Art (1951-4. He worked in a harsh, social realist style, often using thick impasto and vibrant colours. In the late 1960s, Bratby commenced a series of portraits of celebrities and many scenes of Venice followed featuring his second wife, Patty. Bratby was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1971.

John Bratby became a media figure famous for the company of prostitutes, sleeping rough in the attic of the Royal Academy and could be found painting in toilets and amidst the detritus of everyday life.

Bratby's first one-man exhibition was at Beaux Arts Gallery and in 1959 he won first prize in the John Moores Junior Section and Guggenheim Awards for 1956, 1957 and 1958. In 1954, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy, to which he was elected an Associate in 1959 and a full member in 1971.

The Marxist art critic John Berger likened Bratby's obsessive vision to that of the prisoner in the condemned cell, seeing life for the last time. Bratby became an international name almost overnight, and the first artist media pop-star, several years before Hockney. In 1956, Bratby and the other so-called Kitchen Sink painters - Edward Middleditch, Jack Smith and Derrick Greaves - were chosen to represent Great Britain at the Venice Biennale. That year, one of Bratby's finest early works, Still-Life with Chip Frier, was purchased by the Tate.

The Fifties were undoubtedly Bratby's best period. In 1957 he was commissioned to paint the pictures for the film of Joyce Cary's novel The Horse's Mouth, and became identified in the popular imagination with its Bohemian artist hero, Gulley Jimson (played by Alec Guinness). In art schools, he became a kind of folk idol who was seen to be vigorously demolishing the old order. Bratby's paintings, including several huge figure compositions on hardboard, were shown in the United States, and he could afford to buy a large house in Blackheath. A major retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, a reassessment of the Kitchen Sink Painters at the Mayor Gallery and an exhibition of his new work at the Albemarle Gallery, London, has brought about a reassessment and re-evaluation of his work and prices.

John Bratby is collected, among others, by Paul McCartney. A portion of Bratby's painting Four Lambrettas and Three Portraits of Janet Churchman (1958) is featured on the cover of Mark Knopfler's 2007 album Kill To Get Crimson.


A. Clutton-Brock: John Bratby, A.R.A., Painters of Today (London, 1961);
John Bratby: Venice, the Hemingway Suite (exh. cat. by A. Lambirth, London, Albemarle Gal., 1991); and
John Bratby: Portraits (exh. cat. by R. Gibson, London, N.P.G., 1991)

About Me

Name: John Bratby

Nationality: Scotland