This striking portrait was one of several works on a Cornish theme that John Minton painted in 1948. His subject was Eric Verrico, an Italian student and occasional life model who Minton taught at Camberwell School of Arts in London. Verrico was one of a group of good-looking young men known as ‘Johnny’s Circus’. Although it is unclear whether Minton and Verrico had a relationship, the artist was undoubtedly attracted to the younger man. in 1949, Verrico was conscripted to the RAF, changing his name to Verrier. Around this time he broke off his friendship with Minton, a source of great anguish to the artist.
The angular treatment of Verrico’s body and head, combined with his dark facial features, bears some resemblance to the modelling of figures in Picasso’s early paintings. Although his Mediterranean appearance is indicated by brown tanned skin and black hair, his muscular build and strong arms place him in the guise of a Cornish fisherman, although perhaps, more as a form of athletic ‘pin-up’ than a documentary image. Hanging on the wall above him are glass globe fishing floats, and, through the window behind, a view of fishing boats anchored in the harbour.
Minton is often associated with the bohemian art scene of Soho, London, but he relished the opportunity to discover new places and subjects. Cornwall was one such place that he visited during the late 1940s to early 1950s, along with visits to Corsica, Spain, the West Indies and Morocco.
Minton’s portraits commonly featured male figures. In the catalogue for his centenary solo exhibition held at the Pallant House Gallery in 2017, curator, Simon Martin comments:
Whilst Minton’s images of guardsmen, Mediterranean and Caribbean fishermen and Spanish bullfighters play to different audiences in different ways, his portraits of friends, students and lovers have a deep poignancy which is perhaps more revealing of the artist’s complicated sexuality.
Born near Cambridge, John Minton studied at St John’s Wood Art Schools (1935-1938). A year in Paris introduced him to French Neo-Romanticism and Picasso. A conscientious objector during the Second World War, Minton produced stage designs and taught at Camberwell and Central Schools of Art, London. He later taught at the Royal College of Art (1948-1957), known as an inspiring teacher. A prolific artist, he had eight solo exhibitions from 1945 to 1956. His commercial graphic designs epitomised a characteristic early 1950s style. Although often associated with bohemian London, Minton travelled to Corsica, Spain, Morocco and the West Indies. Disillusioned by the popularity of abstract art, Minton committed suicide at the age of forty.
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