Painting Pop’s “Wimbledon Bardot”

One of the first artworks visitors will see when entering Abbot Hall Art Gallery’s Painting Pop exhibition is by a significant, yet relatively unknown artist.

Pauline Boty’s Colour Her Gone depicts screen-icon Marilyn Monroe with bright flowers and abstract shapes. The painting, in oil on canvas, was created in 1962 and is on loan to Abbot Hall by Wolverhampton Arts and Museums.

Boty was a founder of Britain’s Pop Art movement alongside more celebrated artists, such as David Hockney and Peter Blake. She was a student at the prestigious Royal College of Art and became a central figure in swinging sixties London. Boty’s striking paintings express self-assured femininity, addressing themes of female sexuality, race and politics. Critics deemed her work both vibrant and rebellious.

As a young graduate from art college, Boty was profiled in Ken Russell’s 1962 documentary ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ alongside Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips whose paintings are also presented in Painting Pop. The film was broadcast as part of the BBC’s Monitor arts strand, focussing on the artwork and the lives of four hip artists in London.

Tragically Pauline Boty was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away 51 years ago this week, aged just 28 (1 July 1966). It wasn’t until the 1990s that Boty’s work was rediscovered and brought to a new audience. The Tate collection purchased a painting by her in 1991 and Wolverhampton Art Gallery held a major retrospective exhibition of her work in 2013.

The Scottish author and playwright Ali Smith researched the work and life of Boty for her novel Autumn, in which a central character is a collector of her artworks. Writing in the Guardian last year, Smith enthused: “…over and above all this whirlwind energy – over and above the short life, the too-early death, the legends, the rumours, the vibrant and groundbreaking brand new 60s spirit which she didn’t just embody but seems literally to have helped create, Boty was – is, always will be – the first and only British Pop artist who happened to be a woman.”

Opening on Friday 14 July, Painting Pop is Abbot Hall’s must-see summer exhibition celebrating British Pop Art from the early 1960s, including work by Pauline Boty, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Allen Jones.