First establishing himself as a painter of portraits and scenes of low life, Clifford Hall became a well-known personality in bohemian Chelsea of the 1940s and 50s. However, later in his career, he developed a distinctive new strand of images, of enigmatic draped women.
Clifford Hall was born in Wandsworth, London, on 24 January 1904, the elder son of Clifford Henry Hall, a newspaper manager, and his wife, Isabella Hall (née Beatty). He grew up in Richmond, living first in East Sheen Avenue and then in Mount Ararat Road, and received his initial education from the Misses Doughty at Elm House School, East Sheen. Though he did not enjoy his time at Richmond Hill School, The Vineyard, Richmond, he was encouraged in his drawing by one teacher, Arthur Noding. From there, he went on to King’s College School, Wimbledon.
From 1922, Hall studied in evening classes at Richmond School of Art, under Charles Wheeler, and then full time at Putney School of Art, under Stanley Anderson.
In 1925, he transferred to the Royal Academy Schools, winning the Landseer Scholarship, which, paid both for his studies and, from 1927, his studio at 6 Riversdale Road, Twickenham Park. While in Twickenham, he painted scenes at Hampton Wick and Teddington. Of his teachers at the RA Schools, Walter Sickert would prove particularly influential, both in palette and subject matter.
By 1928, Hall had saved enough money from his portrait commissions to finance his going to Paris, where he joined his friend, Edwin John, the son of Augustus John. They shared a studio in the Parisian suburb of Malakoff, and drew in the ‘cours libre’ of the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, in Montparnasse, Hall also working nearby in André Lhote’s studio. He loved Paris and immersed himself in its bohemian life.
On his return to England, and Twickenham, in 1929, Hall began to exhibit widely in London, at venues that included the Royal Academy (1930-58), the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the London Group, the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers and the New English Art Club. He also showed work in the provinces and at the Paris Salon. He held his first solo show in 1929, at St Martin’s Gallery, 33 St Martin’s Court, off the Charing Cross Road, and a second one at the Leger Galleries in 1931. The manual, How to Paint Portraits, published in 1932, confirmed his expertise in that particular genre. His images of Islington and Soho, and his exhibition held in 1935, at the Beaux Arts Gallery, founded by Sickert’s brother-in-law, Frederick Lessore, demonstrated his adherence to the values of the Camden Town Group.
Hall’s first marriage was in 1933 to the artist, Marion Zass. Though a son, Julian, was born to them in 1939, their marriage was not a success, and they divorced in 1950. From 1933, Hall was based at Trafalgar Studios, Manresa Road, and soon became a recognisable figure in bohemian Chelsea, with his neat moustache and goatee. Among other distinctions, he was the first artist to paint Quentin Crisp, producing three portraits of him in 1940. During the Second World War, he worked with a stretcher party, and made drawings of his experiences, which he submitted independently to the War Artists Advisory Committee (now in the Imperial War Museum). An exhibition of some of his war drawings, ‘Bombs on Chelsea’, was held at the Leger Galleries in May 1941.
In 1945, Hall published a monograph on Constantin Guys, the nineteenth-century French painter and illustrator of contemporary life, a volume that was edited by Lillian Browse. Then, in the following year, he joined Browse’s gallery, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, for the first of three solo exhibitions (1946, 1947, 1950). In 1949, he founded the short-lived Company of Four with John Buckland Wright, Nigel Lambourne and Stuart Ray, and they exhibited together at the Week-End Gallery, 9 South Bolton Gardens, in the May of that year. He shared the cost of a model with Lambourne and Wright, and they would exhibit together again at the Colnaghi Gallery in 1951.
The end of the war encouraged Hall to travel, not only to points on the British coastline, in Sussex, Devon and Suffolk, but also to the Continent. In 1949, he led a Painting School in Benidorm, Spain, when it was still a picturesque fishing village; while, in 1950, he joined Nigel Lambourne on a trip to Antwerp.
In 1950, Hall reviewed his artistic practice, and for a few months concentrated on drawing, the fruits of which were exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1952. However, he returned to painting, and worked in tempera and later, from the 1960s, in acrylic. He continued to show the prolific results, and was an active member of the ROI and NS (becoming Vice Chairman in 1952). Gradually, he developed a motif that he had first essayed in the mid 1940s: mysterious female figures, wrapped in towels or other fabrics, and often viewed from the back.
Between 1952 and 1960, Hall was based at 9 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood Street. In 1956, he married Ann Hewson, who had been a student of his at Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art. Anne gave birth to their son, Richard, in 1957, and they moved to a house in Bayswater, which had a studio in the back garden. Later exhibitions included the retrospective, ‘Paintings of the Seaside, 1934-1966’ at Anthony d’Offay Fine Art in 1966. Hall died in hospital on 25 December 1973, following a massive stroke. A memorial exhibition was held at the Belgrave Gallery in 1977.
His work is represented in numerous collections, including the Imperial War Museum; and the University of Hull At Collection.