Stunning Melly portrait gets permanent home at Walker

He earned the name Good Time George and although he was a leading light in the 1950s Soho art and jazz worlds, he never strayed far from his Liverpool roots.

Now a painting of George Melly is to go on display at the Walker Art Gallery, the first work from artist Maggi Hambling to be added to its permanent collection.

Given how the pair became life-long friends, it seems appropriate that if Melly is to be remembered forever on canvas, it should be in a portrait executed by Hambling.

After all, didn’t they meet - and strike up an instant rapport - while lying on the path at a garden party?

"We had each had a considerable amount to drink,” she recalls.

Maggi Hambling

Hambling, one of Britain’s foremost contemporary artists, who has been awarded an OBE and CBE,  is perhaps best known for Scallop, a 4-metre-high steel sculpture on Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk, dedicated to Benjamin Britten, and her sculpture i Oscar Wilde in central London.

She was commissioned in 1998, by the National Portrait Gallery, to paint Melly. Now she has handed the work to the Walker where it will go on show from this Wednesday, November 8. Hambling will be in attendance that evening to give a talk about her life as part of this year’s Homotopia festival.

George Melly
George Melly

Melly, jazz performer, surrealist, comic, raconteur, critic and author, came from a well-known Liverpool family, growing up in south Liverpool and remaining a frequent visitor to the city throughout his life, actively supporting the arts. In 1997 he sat on the jury for the John Moores Painting Prize.

Many times Hambling painted and drew him from life, and posthumously.  He said she would go down in art history as "Maggi (Coffin) Hambling", referring to her practice of drawing and painting people on their deathbeds and afterwards. They worked together in the early 1980s when he chaired the Channel 4 arts quiz, Gallery, in which Hambling was one of the two team captains.

She said: “George often makes a grand appearance in my dreams. I still hear him laugh, tell jokes and sing. From wherever he may be…”