John Hoyland was born on 12 October 1934, in Sheffield, Yorkshire, to a working-class family, and educated at Sheffield School of Art and Crafts within the junior art department (1946–51) before progressing to Sheffield College of Art (1951–56) and the Royal Academy Schools, London (1956–60), where Sir Charles Wheeler, the then President of the Royal Academy famously ordered that Hoyland’s paintings – all abstracts – be removed from the walls of the Diploma Galleries. It was only the intervention of Peter Greenham, Acting Keeper of the Schools, that saved the day when he reminded Sir Charles Wheeler that Hoyland had painted admired landscapes and figurative paintings– evidence that he could ‘paint properly’.
In 1953 Hoyland went abroad for the first time, hitch-hiking with a friend to the South of France. After the bleakness of Sheffield it was a revelation:’To me it was like landing in Tahiti. There was still rationing here. Down there were all these brown girls, swimming and diving, and all these grapes.’ Hoyland visited again in 1957 with David Smith when he was at the Royal Academy and got what he referred to as ‘The Gauguin syndrome’, a lifelong romance with travel and the south.