• By 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65, but ageism still persists in the workplace.
  • From the 63-year-old Turner Prize winning artist Lubaina Himid, to Matisse’s Snail, these artists show that greatness is not the preserve of the young.

In 2017, Tanzanian-born artist Lubaina Himid won the Turner Prize, the most prestigious contemporary art prize in Britain.

It was remarkable for two reasons: firstly, because she was the first woman of colour to win the prize and secondly, because at 63, she was the oldest person ever to win it. Until the year before, eligibility had been capped at age 50.

The landmark decision to allow artists of any age to enter the prize was welcomed by sculptor and previous winner Anish Kapoor, who said: “We have had a long, long, long obsession with youth in the art world and I think it is good to recognize that it often takes a lifetime to really have the work recognized, to be an artist.”

The same could be said for the fields of science, with some ground-breaking innovations only coming with experience.

But as the global population continues to age – it’s predicted that by 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65 – the world of work will need to follow the Turner Prize’s example and stamp out ageism, often in inherent mandatory retirement ages.

Projected distribution of the world's population from 2020 to 2100, by age group.
Image: Statista

COVID-19 could actually increase age discrimination in the workplace – as managing those more at risk could mean employers unwittingly discriminate against them.

How we foster diversity in the workplace as we recover from the pandemic will be one of the themes at the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit later this month.

Alongside Lubaina Himid, here are six globally renowned creatives who arguably did some of their best work in their later years.

1. Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

The English author was 58 when she began her literary career, writing biographies, but it wasn’t until she was 60 that she published her first novel, The Golden Child, in 1977. She became prolific, publishing eight more novels over the next 18 years. It was her third novel, Offshore, about loneliness and connection among the residents of houseboats in London, which won her the Booker Prize at aged 62.

2. The Snail by Henri Matisse

In the late 1940s, poor health stopped the French artist Matisse from painting, so he developed a new technique altogether. He called it ‘gouaches découpées’, which meant cutting or tearing shapes from paper that had been painted with gouache – and then pasted onto a white background by his assistant. The most famous of these is The Snail, which Matisse made at the Hôtel Régina in Nice in 1953 – at the age of 83, and the year before he died.

3. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

American journalist-turned-author Annie Proulx was 57 when she wrote Postcards, her first novel. A year later, in 1993, her second novel The Shipping News won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1997, at aged 62, she wrote a short story for the New Yorker magazine, called Brokeback Mountain, a love story of two cowboys working in the wilderness. Almost a decade later, the film adaptation won three Oscars.

4. The Disasters of War by Francisco Goya

Plate 26 from Goya’s The Disasters of War: One can’t look.
Image: The Met

Aged 64, the Spanish artist Goya began a decade’s work on a series of 80 prints, called The Disasters of War. They depicted the atrocities of the Spanish struggle for independence from France, from 1807 to 1814, capturing man’s inhumanity in closely sketched detail “with compassion, honesty and respect for the victims”. One print, No Se Puede Mirar (One can’t look) was particularly innovative in its composition – with elements placed outside of the picture, increasing its impact. They weren’t published until 1863 – 35 years after his death.

5. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Tolkien started writing the first chapter of what would become The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1937, intended as the sequel to The Hobbit, which was published that year. But it wasn’t until July 1954, when he was 62, that the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, was published in the UK. Just 3,000 copies were printed. In October that year, it was published in the US – with 1,500 copies printed. It’s been translated into 50 languages and has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books ever written.

6. Requiem by Guiseppe Verdi

The Messa da Requiem started off as just one movement – the ‘Libera me’ – in 1868, written by the then 55-year-old Italian opera composer in memory of Rossini. Five years later, the death of writer Alessandro Manzoni inspired Verdi to rework the movement and build on it to create his own full Requiem Mass. He conducted the premiere at the Church of San Marco in Milan in 1874. With its depth of emotion moving from terror to sorrow, it’s one of the most performed 19th-century choral works.