John Minton was a painter and illustrator. He was one of a group of artists called the Neo-Romantics. They were known for their emotional and abstract paintings of the British landscape. The artists Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland are most associated with the movement. Minton’s work was more figurative than his peers. His work was influenced by the destruction and impact of World War II on society and his homosexuality. Minton’s work would often feature young male figures alone in charged settings. ‘Blitzed City with Self-Portrait’ (Collection of the Imperial War Museum), made in 1941, is a good example of his style.
Artists and critics respected and admired Minton’s paintings. He was also a successful commercial artist. He designed film posters, book covers and advertisements that were very popular and successful too. Minton’s family wealth and success as an artist meant he was financially well off. He shared his success with his large group of friends and was incredibly generous with his money.
‘Portrait of Robert Hunt’ was made in 1947 when Minton was a teacher at the Royal College of Art, London. He was popular with his students and often socialised in big groups of friends and pupils in Soho. The group included the artists Francis Bacon and John Craxton among others. Hunt was one of his pupils and lived with Minton at his house in Shaftesbury Villas for a time. He later became his studio assistant.
The pair shared a bed for at least some of the time they lived together but their relationship was not sexual. Minton was attracted to Hunt but the student was heterosexual. This portrait was made early in the pair’s friendship and suggest’s Minton’s admiration for his young friend’s good looks. The smooth skin and angled features of Hunt, combined with his lightly pursed lips and intense gaze, suggest that Minton had studied his subject closely.
Hunt later recalled his father asking him if he was a ‘nance’ or ‘pansy’ when he met Minton for the first time. He remembers, ‘I told him I wasn’t but I liked them – “They’ve been good to me, they're the only people who've really helped me.” He [Hunt’s father] thought this over and nodded.’ Hunt’s relationship with Minton is reflective of a number of similar relationships amongst a network of artists, students and collectors based in London during the early 20th century. The group included the wealthy aesthete Peter Watson and artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud as well as Minton.
Watson, who helped found the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), London, had inherited a fortune from his father. He used his wealth to nurture contemporary artists in Britain, including Bacon and Freud. Watson was openly homosexual and a number of the artists he supported were too, including Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde. His relationships with them and others were not necessarily sexual but instead based on shared artistic sensibilities. Watson’s investment in these artists and others arguably helped bring together a group of artists who changed the face of contemporary British art. The sexuality of Watson, Bacon and Minton was an important factor in bringing together this network or queer community of like-mined artists, both gay and straight.