The Bruno Hat hoax 1929

13883Found – Society Racket: A Critical Survey of Modern Social Life (Long, London 1933) by Patrick Balfour (Baron Kinross) – a journalist. At the time of this book he was ‘Mr Gossip’ at the Daily Express and the character Adam in Waugh’s Vile Bodies was probably partly based on him (Adam becomes ‘Mr Chatterbox’ at the ‘Daily Excess’.)

Balfour covers the 1929 hoax surrealist exhibition at the Guinness’s house in Buckingham Gate SW1:

‘Then an invitation was sent out to a “First exhibition of Pictures by Bruno Hat” in Mr and Mrs Guinness’s house. It was accompanied by the following biography:

Mr Bruno Hat came to England with his father in 1919 from Lubeck. After having lived in this country a short time, Mr Max had married an English woman, and bought a general dealers shop in Sussex, where he lived until he died in 1923. The shop is now managed by Mr Bruno Hat with the help of his stepmother.

Mr Bruno Hat is now 31 years of age. Apart from some two months or so at a Hamburg art school, he is entirely self-taught. In frequent visits to London, exhibitions provide him with little little more than a glimpse of contemporary movements in painting. He has never, until now, exhibited a picture. A month ago, however, several examples of his work were taken to Paris, and the opinion there was so immediately favourable that successful arrangements have been made for an exhibition there In the early winter.

The exhibition was a complete success. A leaflet ‘Approach to Hat’ was distributed at the exhibition. It was a travesty of all the usual modern Art jargon and signed A.R. de T. A female with a price list and order book sat expectantly at a table. “Bruno Hat” himself sat in a wheelchair. He wore smoked glasses, a drooping black moustache, and the sort of black clothes which a penniless German artist might easily wear if he had put on his” Sunday Best” for the occasion. The intelligentsia of Mayfair appeared in all their finery and made what they deemed to be appropriate comment in hushed tones. Some even tried out their German on Mr Hat who, it was explained, could speak no English. Few of them knew until the following day that their legs had been pulled.’

There is a very good, almost definitive, catalogue note at the Leicester Galleries site. They had catalogued and sold one of the paintings ‘Still Life with Pears’ – actually by John Banting. Most of the pictures in the show were by Brian Howard and most were ‘improved’ by Banting. There are conflicting reports about the show, some suggest most of the guests were in on the joke, Balfour suggests they were not. The part of Hat was played by Tom Mitford and not, as sometimes suggested, by Lytton Strachey- although he is known to have visited it and even bought a painting… The Waugh catalogue is very rare and valuable but Leicester Galleries give a good extract from it, some of which is below (many thanks) :

This is no sense (except the Christian) a Charity Exhibition. In overcoming for the first time what the artist himself admits as his extraordinary shyness, and opening her house to those who wish to see the works of Bruno Hat, Mrs.Guinness is attempting to do a service less to him than to the artistic public.

Now everyone is aware that what has come to be termed “abstract” painting has only just begun to be “taken seriously” in England. Some years ago Mr. Roberts and Mr. Wyndham Lewis achieved a certain success in that direction, but the acknowledged masters, such as Picasso, Gris and, perhaps, Marcoussis, have only recently found a market in this country. Artistically, we are incurably unpunctual. Co-incidentally, however, with this awakening on the part of England towards the most important artistic discovery of our time – namely, the progression from “significant” to “pure” form, appears the first English abstract painter. This rather startling phrase is not my own invention. (A naturalised Englishman, preferring to live in England, he wishes to be considered English, and was spoken of as such in Paris, when some examples of his work were taken there some weeks ago.)…

The painting of Bruno Hat presents a problem of very real importance. He is no Cezanne agonisedly tussling to reconcile the visual appearance of form with his own intuitional perception of it… Bruno Hat’s work definitely accredit him with a similar power [to Picasso], developed, because of his youth only, to a less degree. The significance of this cannot be sufficiently stressed. It means, among other things, that Bruno Hat may lead the way in this century’s European painting from Discovery to Tradition. Uninfluenced, virtually untaught, he is the first natural, lonely, spontaneous flower of the one considerable movement in painting to-day.

Hitherto, good abstract painting has been the close preserve of its Hispano-Parisian discoverers. Bruno Hat is the first signal of the coming world movement towards the creation of Pure Form.


3 thoughts on “The Bruno Hat hoax 1929

  1. Lord Brabazon of Tiara

    Many thanks for this useful addition to art hoax lore. There was an anniversary exhibition at Buckingham Gate (pretty sure), 50 or 55 years later where they had a few of the originals. I think it may have been something to with London art dealer James Birch. Bryan Guinness was there and I have a feeling Black Velvet was served. It seems to have been completely forgotten, although I recall it was mentioned in the Evening Standard…

  2. Jot 101 Post author

    Many thanks LBT. I found mention of this at
    — yes a revival was staged in the same house, put on by Art Magazine – to quote:

    “Half a century later, it seems that Tony Peto, editor of Art Magazine, has discovered another two unsung heroes of the easel, namely Bruno Breton and Andree Hat, whose remarkable work will be celebrated at a party next week.

    The coincidence of the name is not all. The private view of their work will take place, purely by chance you understand, at the very same house in Palace Street, and among the guests invited to admire the pictures will be Auberon Waugh and Jonathan Guinness and their daughters, Sophia Waugh and Catherine Guinness, among 100 others.

    “I quite agree that it does rather sound as if history is repeating itself,” says a poker-faced Tony Peto, who is organising the event.

    “The fact is that Art Magazine is always on the look-out for new talent and it is not our fault if the two finest unrecognised talents just happen to be called Bruno Breton and Andree Hat. If you have any doubts, I am sure you will find that their work will speak for itself.”

  3. Pingback: Party Time: Vile Bodies and Bruno Hat | The Evelyn Waugh Society

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