There are two letters and one postcard (dated 1965) from Patrick Hayman to Ruth Borchard, sent from his home studio in Barnes, south-west London. In the first, he wrote:
‘I would be delighted to let you have a self-portrait for 20 guineas… I think your idea is a charming one & that a collection of contemporary self portraits will be extremely valuable. (A book on the subject, of British ones, w’d be invaluable). I think it is extremely original and brave of you to undertake such a thing. And originality is rare these days… I am working on one or two self-portraits now (one in oil & one in tempera, goauche etc.) & when they are finished I’d be happy for you to have one.’
He had recently exhibited in London a painting called Self Portrait as a Flying Machine.
Hayman, who was born in London in 1915 to Jewish parents who had met and married in New Zealand, was around fifty years old when he painted the self-portrait acquired by Ruth.
Taking the form of a border-cropped close-up of the artist’s face, it is, characteristically, a small, hauntingly intimate work. The brilliancy of the artist’s complexion contrasts strongly with the pitch black background – like the moon shining in the night sky. Bluish-black paint veering to purple evokes his wavy dark hair and thick moustache and beard. Dark outlines delineate the sad, down-turned mouth, the thick spectacles above the wistful eyes, the strongly-defined nose. The use of a powerful dark armature against luminous colour is reminiscent of various kinds of art Hayman admired – notably Byzantine icons, medieval stained glass, and Rouault’s paintings.
After spending his wartime years in New Zealand – where his early imagery of lovers in landscape, voyagers at sea, women and aeroplanes, set the mystical tone for a lifetime’s work – he and his wife Barbara settled in post-war St. Ives, where his visionary art (inspired by diverse sources such as Maori art, Munch, Schwitters and Alfred Wallis) was much admired by Peter Lanyon and Barbara Hepworth.
He later recalled first seeing the Cornish fishing village of Mevagissey as ‘marvellously beautiful with this terribly bleak winter; I always remember it being almost black and white.’ His 1965 self-portrait has just this kind of stark, marvellous beauty.