Doris Hatt British, 1890-1969

Doris  Hatt was one of the most distinctive and advanced artists working in  the west country during the first half of the twentieth-century. Born  in 1890 and from a well-known and affluent Bath family, she received  a privileged education in London, Vienna and Paris, studying in  London at the Royal College of Art and at Goldsmith's College, but it  was her visits to Paris in the early 1920s that were to inspire her  artistic direction. Having initially been influenced by Paul &  John Nash and the Romantic English landscape tradition – she was  soon captivated by the modern Paris School, particularly the works of  Braque, Léger and Picasso. She began exhibiting with the  Clifton Arts Club in 1921 where fellow exhibitors included Wyndham  Lewis and the Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant  and Vanessa Bell. Even  in this company the strength and quality of her paintings were  quickly noticed  prompting Albert Rutherston to write of her  'distinction' and her 'curiosity and conscience'. However it was the  intoxicating atmosphere of Paris during the 1920s with its euphoric  optimism for the speed and dynamism of the new machine age that was  to have the most profound impact on her life and work.

Hatt  first studied in Paris in 1922 and was drawn to Léger's Free School where she was able to develop her own personal take on Cubism  bringing a uniquely English quality to an international movement. She  became steeped in the writings of Amédée Ozenfant and  Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (more commonly  known as the architect Le  Corbusier) and their modernist doctrine of Purism.  This was the new gospel for the thrilling age of science and  mechanization which rejected early Cubism's fragmentation of reality  in favour of a monumental style that celebrated the production line  and the standardization of objects for modern life. In painting,  the  most dominant and successful exponent of the new utopian creed was  Fernand Léger who had experienced the horrors of the trenches  first hand but held a determined belief in the possibility of a  better world and thus embraced  the representation of reality in  heroic terms. Hatt was also certainly influenced by Léger's  commitment to Communism – a political ideal that was to become the  cornerstone of her life.

Returning  to Clevedon in the late 1920s she opened her studio once a week  offering free art classes to locals in her desire to educate and open  minds to the new developments in art. She delivered regular public  talks on art in a brave attempt to communicate her ideas to a wider  public  as she did not want to 'live in a vacuum' and feel isolated  from her community. During the 1930s a family inheritance enabled her  to commission the building of a starkly  modern house and studio  according to Bauhaus principles where she lived and worked with her  life-long partner, the weaver Margery Mack Smith. Her home became a  centre for radical activity both in art and politics and was a  meeting place for like-minded people throughout the region. Her  Sunday parties became legendary - the regular gathering of her  communist friends caused a stir amongst Clevedon's 'polite' and  predominantly conservative society.

Hatt  developed a painting style that was meticulous in its planning and  execution. Her great mantra being 'to simplify and at the same time  intensify' with her guiding aim to present only the essential  elements in her compositions whilst rigorously discarding all that  was superfluous to the intended design. In her own words this  disciplined process meant that 'order' had 'been brought out of   chaos – that life after all is not so difficult as it seems. This  will give you a sense of power and well being as you study the  picture.' Yet as her friend and supporter Professor Peter Millard  observed – 'There was nothing brutal about Doris's paintings,  nothing raw... It is typical of English artists to take an  international style, and then to soften and lyricize it, giving it an  essentially English sensitivity.' Indeed there is a strong  Romanticism in Doris Hatt's work which pays homage to the ancient  traditions of painting.

A  highly political feminist, Hatt became a member of  the Independent  Labour Party soon after the First World War, but in response to the  rise of Fascism during the early 1930s  she joined the Communist  Party and was a tireless activist even standing for election as a  Communist candidate in Clevedon during the 1946 local elections. She  began her election leaflet with the following statements:

I  believe that Clevedon Council cannot be representative of the  majority of the Clevedon people unless there is an increase of  Councillors with working-class sympathies.

I  think also that Women should be represented on the Council. At  present there are no Women Councillors.

According  to Professor Millard, 'Doris Hatt's communism was gentle and kind,  and suffused with solid middle-class virtues.' Her political passions  were guided by an empathy for others and a belief in fairness and  equality – these were essentially humanitarian concerns with the  noblest of intentions. She was also widely and affectionately known  in Clevedon for her regular visits round the local pubs selling the Daily Worker and she remained  staunchly loyal to the Communist cause right up to her death in 1969.  In the light of Picasso's membership of the Communist Party,  she was formally invited by the Soviet Embassy as the Communist  representative to the opening preview of the great Picasso exhibition   at the Tate Gallery, London in 1960.Much  honoured by the invitation, she attended the private view dressed in  traditional Spanish costume, borrowing a long black dress and wearing  an old mantilla leading the the press to believe that she was a  relative of the great artist.

During  the last twenty years of her life Hatt divided her time between  Clevedon and her partner's cottage in Watchet and these two places  provided many of the subjects for her paintings and coloured  linocuts. Every year she would travel abroad favouring destinations  in the South of France and Spain and she often stopped off in Paris  to keep abreast of the very latest developments. Her paintings gained  acceptance in Paris and she exhibited regularly at Galerie Zack and  her work was favourably reviewed in La Revue Moderne.  Although she was a prolific exhibitor in the south west, particularly  at the RWA and the Clifton Arts Club, she was never inclined to  secure a regular London dealer and perhaps as a result of this she is  not as widely known today as she deserves to be. She lived a  courageous and inspirational life, full of passion, commitment and  individuality which is richly evident in her powerful,  life-affirming, paintings.

(A  major book about Doris Hatt's life and work is currently in  preparation and will be published by Sansom & Co in 2014 and a  retrospective is planned to be staged at the RWA in Bristol).We would urge anyone with works by Doris Hatt to get in touch with us.