George Always: Portraits of George Melly by Maggi Hambling celebrates this most colourful son of Liverpool: jazz performer, surrealist, comic, raconteur, critic and author Good Time George.
This exhibition of more than 20 paintings and drawings, most previously unseen by the public, runs until 31 May 2009 at the Walker Art Gallery
George came from a well-known Liverpool family and remained a frequent visitor to the city throughout his life, actively supporting the arts.
Maggi Hambling and George Melly were the closest of friends. He said she would go down in art history as Maggi (Coffin) Hambling, referring to her practise of drawing and painting people on their deathbeds and afterwards.
The most notable were the series featuring her father and her muse, Henrietta Moraes - shown simultaneously in London in 2001 to great critical acclaim. Maggi says:
I loved and worked from life with all three and so the fact of death did not kill my desire to paint them. One by one they have inhabited me. George often makes a grand appearance in my dreams. I still hear him laugh, tell jokes and sing. From wherever he may be
The exhibition features oil paintings including the stunning triple portrait of 1998 on loan from the National Portrait Gallery and 12 lively ink drawings, the last series of drawings for which George posed. There are two paintings of his final days and works from memory and the imagination.
Two works - George Always, I and George Always, II - are loans from The Ivy Restaurant in London. A towering new waterfall triptych, inspired by Georges favourite colours, will be among works on show for the first time.
Maggis responses in paint to Georges death in July 2007 are far from morbid. They are tender, challenging, serious and funny. These highly original and imaginative portraits confront the question of death head-on.
George, who was born in 1926 and educated at Stowe, could entertain, fascinate and outrage often all at the same time.
In 1997 he sat on the jury for the John Moores exhibition Britains biggest painting competition which has been staged at the Walker since 1957.
George had a strong personal attachment to Sudley House, an art gallery run by National Museums Liverpool in the south of the city, which he helped to publicise. As a child, he and his family would visit the wealthy occupant Emma Holt who later gave the house and its important art collection to the people of Liverpool.