Born in London, he was brought up in Hammersmith, west London. His father worked for ICI, and his mother came from a Lancashire legal family. His great-great-grandfather was Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) who described the glandular disease, later called "Hodgkin's Disease". His cousin, Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) was the crystallographer and Nobel Prize winner. The artist and art critic, Roger Fry (1866-1934) was a cousin, and Howard Hodgkin grew up in a home full of Omega Workshop objects produced by the Bloomsbury Set.
In 1940, at the age of eight, Howard Hodgkin was evacuated to New York and stayed in a former governor's residence on Long Island. Friends of his mother took him on his first visit to an art gallery, the Museum of Modern Art. After the Second World War a rich relative paid for him to go to Eton. His art teacher was Wilfred Blunt, the brother of the art critic and spy, Anthony Blunt.
He was unhappy at Eton and kept running away. After a session with a psychiatrist he transferred to Bryanston. His new art teacher was Charles Handley-Read. His parents paid for him to go to Camberwell Art School (1949-1950), and then to Bath Academy of Art Corsham (1950-1954), where he later taught. He was a teacher at Charterhouse from 1954 to 1956.
In 1955 he married Julia Lane and they had two sons. One became a television director. He taught at Bath Academy of Art Corsham from 1955 to 1966. In 1962 Howard Hodgkin had his first one-man show in London.
He taught at Chelsea School of Art from 1966 to 1972. He was a visiting lecturer at Slade and Chelsea Schools of Art from 1976 to 1977, and he was also artist in residence at Brasenose College Oxford from 1976 to 1977. He was a trustee of the Tate Gallery London from 1970 to 1976. His first big retrospective was in 1976.
He was appointed as a trustee of the Tate Gallery and made a CBE in 1977. He was a trustee of the National Gallery London from 1978 to 1985. In his forties he spent some time in India and took an interest in the traditional painting of that country. When back in England he fell ill with amoebiasis, a parasite that he had picked up eight years earlier in India. After a major operation he went through a period of depression.
Soon afterwards he understood that he was gay and he left his wife. For a time his love-life became public as he seemed to fall in love with unsuitable men. However, in 1983 he settled down with the music writer Antony Peattie.
He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984. He won the Turner Prize for contemporary art in 1985. He received his knighthood in 1992. A new exhibition of his work was displayed at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 1996. He is well-known for his prints, and the Tate Gallery, London, has a collection of his work.
His design, New worlds, was used by the Royal Mail in 1999 for the 64 pence British postage stamp in its quartet of stamps celebrating the end of the millennium. An enlarged colour reproduction of the stamp was shown in The Sunday Times Magazine. He was a friend of Bruce Chatwin for more than 20 years, and Bruce Chatwin wrote about him in What Am I Doing Here?, (1989).
He was awarded an honorary DLitt by Oxford University on 28th. June 2000. He was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II a Companion of Honour for "services to art" in the 2003 New Year Honours. A major exhibition of his work was held at Tate Britain, London, in 2006. Also in 2006 the Independent declared him one of the 100 most influential gay and lesbian people in Britain.