Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hawkins, Harold Frederick (1893–1977)

by Daniel Thomas

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Harold Frederick Weaver Hawkins (1893-1977), painter, was born on 28 August 1893 at Sydenham, London, eldest of five sons of Edgar Augustine Hawkins, architect, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Weaver. The cultivated, progressive, but unhappily married parents separated when Harold was 8, after which the boy shared a parental role with his father, a vegetarian and a Fabian, who spoke Esperanto fluently and was severe. In 1906-10 Harold attended Dulwich College where he won the art prize every year. He then proceeded to Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts intending to qualify as an art teacher, but enlisted on 20 April 1914 in the Queen's Westminster Rifles, in premonition of war.

Sent to the Western Front, Hawkins was seriously wounded at Gommecourt, France, on 1 July 1916: 'The whole place roaring with flames, a wonderful sight . . . gas . . . we were to be a sacrificial attack . . . all the men with me were killed . . . I crawled back for two days'. A series of twenty operations saved his arms from amputation, though his right hand remained lifeless and the left became a less-than-full-strength painting hand. After his discharge on 3 February 1919, a disability pension supported his modest needs. In London in 1919-22 he studied at the Westminster Technical Institute and School of Art, and took additional etching classes with Sir Frank Short; he bought a house at Barons Court and there his tenants included his friends Frank Medworth and the painter and poet David Jones. Hawkins's own, mostly unpublished, writing included poetry and a manuscript account of his life, 'My Philosophy' (1968).

In 1923 he held his first solo exhibition and saw his work displayed in the Royal Academy of Arts. On 15 September that year at All Saints parish church, Kensington, he married Irene (Rene) Eleanor Villiers, a 21-year-old artist. For most of the next ten years they lived by the Mediterranean, initially at St Tropez, France (1923-25). Back in England in 1926, he disliked press notices which emphasized his disability; in Malta (1927-30) he adopted the art-name 'Raokin', with which he signed his paintings after 1927, but his working name soon reverted to Weaver Hawkins.

At la Seyne, France (1930-33), Hawkins observed war preparations at nearby Toulon. With his family, he visited Tahiti and Wellington before arriving in Sydney in March 1935 and settling at Mona Vale. Australia became the place for quiet years focussed on his three children. In England he had been called 'a modern Hogarth' for his depictions of everyday working life and leisure; in outer suburban Sydney these subjects became tender and domestic. Morris West met him and recalled: 'My immediate impression was of a quite extraordinary male beauty—fine-boned, bearded visage, with clear untroubled eyes and a ready smile . . . a man at peace with himself and his world'. Usually wearing his home-made leather sandals, Hawkins never donned a tie. He said, 'we are rationalists, socialists and nonconformists'.

Between 1941 and 1972 (when he ceased to paint) he exhibited widely, especially with the Contemporary Art Society of Australia (State president 1952, 1954-63) and the Sydney Printmakers. Hawkins entered works for the Archibald, Sulman and Wynne prizes, and for the Blake prize for religious art, though he was an agnostic. Solo exhibitions were held at the Macquarie Galleries and elsewhere in 1946-68. In 1953 he was awarded Queen Elizabeth II's coronation medal. His work entered a few public collections and won minor prizes from 1950, but not until a 1976 retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales did he begin to be assessed as a major artist. After 1958 he lived on the North Shore. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on 13 August 1977 at Willoughby and was cremated. Several self-portraits are held by the Raokin Collection, Sydney.

Hawkins's ambitious, sometimes mural-sized, modernist allegories of morality for an age of atomic warfare and global over-population had been so uncommon in Australia when painted that most of his fellow artists were embarrassed by his art. His hardness of form was sometimes assumed to be a result of his injuries, but informal drawings (seldom exhibited) proved that his touch was delicate and sensitive. While his disability might have stimulated his unusual interest in subjects of strenuous work and play, it was his tough mind which chiefly created order out of chaos in works which he hoped might help to make the world a better place: 'I hold that it is possible to create beauty with the intellect'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Thomas, Project 11: Weaver Hawkins, exhibition catalogue (Syd, 1976)
  • E. Chanin and S. Miller, The Art and Life of Weaver Hawkins (Syd, 1995)
  • H. de Berg, interview with Weaver Hawkins (transcript, 1965, National Library of Australia)
  • Hawkins papers (Art Gallery of New South Wales Library).

Citation details

Daniel Thomas, 'Hawkins, Harold Frederick (1893–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hawkins-harold-frederick-10457/text18547, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Raokin
Birth

28 August 1893
London, England

Death

13 August 1977
Willoughby, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation