Norman Hutchinson, from Calcutta to the World

AN ELGIN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE BY SURABHI SUNIL

A list of the most distinguished former students of Dr Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong would not be complete without the name, Norman Douglas Hutchinson. Born on October 11 1932, in Kolkata, Norman was brought to the home when he was still an infant and continued his stay there for the next 15 years.

Image by Myron Taplin, The Telegraph
If a young girl wins your heart and you be young also, the image of you both shall forever remain the same, and even though many years go by, you see each other the way you were when you first met…” With these eloquent words, taken from Friedrich Schiller, Norman Douglas Hutchinson begins the preface to one of his most famed works of art, Gloria.

The young Norman spent his formative years showing incredible talent in the arts and repeatedly draining swimming pools to avoid the activity. Though he was never caught for the latter, the former was quite evident to everyone. Displaying a talent for drawing and painting early on, soon enough he could be found sketching anyone he laid eyes on.

After leaving the Homes in Kalimpong, Norman Hutchinson moved to Kolkata to try a hand at being an Industrial Designer. Aged 25, with his wife Gloria he moved out to London. Hutchinson’s first breakthrough came with a portrait of Gloria playing a flute being exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1963.

With a family to support Hutchinson was forced into commerce. Norman and his wife moved to London where they started a successful design company. He started a small engineering business, specializing in bespoke electrical parts. In his autobiography, A Hand to Obey the Demon’s Eye (2000), Hutchinson describes these years, during which his family battled to make its way, as the happiest period of his life.

Painting by Norman Hutchinson, Tanya Baxter Contemporary (Artsy)

When asked about the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, Norman responded with his friend’s words, “A friend said to me that it would go down in history as the only painting to match Holbein’s painting of Henry VIII. I said he was flattering me but he said he believed that.”

By the 1980s the portrait commissions came to include the Royal family. Upon being asked to paint the Queen Mother, he requested her to wear the famous Kohinoor diamond, as she had been the Empress of India after all. It was this painting that elevated his fame and fortune to an extent.

The couple returned to India after 27 years in 1988, after which they frequently visited. They would religiously make the long trip down from Morocco at least once a year. Both Norman and Gloria actively took part in and contributed to renovations and constructions at Dr Graham’s Homes. In 2008, Norman funded the restoration of the Chapel at Lucia King, the baby’s cottage where he was put 75 years before is now named after Gloria. The couple’s undying love and respect for the homes reflected in their generosity with these projects.

Image by Rashbehari Das, Telegraph India

Norman’s greatest satisfaction was his portrait of Maharani Gayatri Devi. ” This grand lady was extremely charming and sweet. I met her for an entire day and simple looked and looked and looked. What was most striking was not a single feature but the sum total of them all that equalled the fantastic, exemplified in her dignity and presence, of beauty and royalty. It seemed that royalty had been bestowed upon her by God.”

Norman and Gloria made a life for themselves from scratch and whatever fame and fortune they acquired is a testament of their persistence and hard work. Norman’s portraits are now famous all over the world. The prized ones are portraits of the Queen Mother, who posed for five sittings, and Queen Elizabeth herself. Several world leaders, including Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and Prince Philip, have had their portraits painted by Norman Hutchinson.

Norman died on the evening of 24 June 2010 at his home in Marrakesh, Morocco. Gloria Hutchinson continues to receive guests with a radiant smile and great pleasure at Dar El Mudal, the home created by her and Norman together