Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss

To mark his new BBC Four programme on John Minton, actor and writer Mark Gatiss picks his favourite works by the underrated British artist.

John Minton

John Minton c.1953

John Minton (1917–1957)

National Portrait Gallery, London

The one that got it all started for me. Seeing the achingly melancholy picture across the room in the National Portrait Gallery made me want to know what lay behind the troubled expression and dolorous eyes. I still love the sketchiness of the clothes and the muted palette.  

Nevile Wallis

Nevile Wallis 1952

John Minton (1917–1957)

Brighton & Hove Museums

A brilliant, playful painting this, I think. The Observer art critic Neville Wallis peers at a canvas of William Etty's Judith and Holofernes, seated on the same Windsor chair which Minton seemed to use for all his models. On the wall are images by Lautrec, Holbein, Palmer and Chagall – acknowledging and celebrating their influence.

Corsican Landscape

Corsican Landscape 1948

John Minton (1917–1957)

New College, University of Oxford

Minton escaped austerity Britain for three blissful weeks in Corsica with the poet Alan Ross – acting on a commission from John Lehmann to ‘come back with a book’. The result, the wonderful Time Was Away is a joyous celebration of life, energy and the curious island itself. This picture burns with sunshine and colour

Children by the Sea

Children by the Sea 1945

John Minton (1917–1957)


A strange and unsettling picture. You could easily imagine it being used on a first edition of The Midwich Cuckoos. As with many of Minton’s paintings, there is a sense of vague threat. The sickly, stormy sky, the distorted landscape (probably Cornwall) and the children themselves make up a powerful psychological study.

Bridge from Cannon Street Station

Bridge from Cannon Street Station 1946

John Minton (1917–1957)

Pembroke College Oxford JCR Art Collection

I love Minton’s Thames-side pictures. They show a London that, though still ravaged by the recent war, is stumbling back into life. The palette is muted but still vital – rusty as blood.

On the Quay, Cornwall

On the Quay, Cornwall 1944

John Minton (1917–1957)

The Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art

Minton produced hundreds of line drawings and his skill with a pen is matchless. I love the illustrative simplicity of this image, which could easily come from a children’s book. Yet the off-kilter composition and the strange expression on the face seem to take its somewhere else entirely.

Portrait of Kevin Maybury

Portrait of Kevin Maybury 1956

John Minton (1917–1957)


It’s hard to pick a favourite from Minton’s prolific canvasses of handsome men but this one has added poignancy as it shows his last lover, the Australian scenic designer Kevin Maybury. The almost vertical floorboards are a persistent presence in the late pictures (perhaps inspired by Cezanne’s Plaster Cupid) and I love the tools of Maybury’s trade dotted about and his vibrant red socks. Maybury found Minton dead in his flat at Apollo Place, Chelsea. Staying with friends the night after, he was heard in his room sobbing 'Oh, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny…'

Mark Gatiss, actor, writer and producer

Mark Gatiss on John Minton: The Lost Man of British Art was broadcast at 9pm on Monday 13th August 2018 on BBC Four, and was available on BBC iPlayer afterwards.