Catalogue entry

P77164 Woman with Dark Hair 1949

Colour lithograph 560 × 380 (22 × 15) on handmade wove paper 637 × 492 (25 × 19 3/8); printed by ?Jean Pons, Paris and published by ?the artist; size of edition not known
Inscribed ‘Roger Hilton Artists | Proof.’ below image b.r. and in another hand ‘G741 | Roger Hilton | Woman with dark Hair | OL. C 1957’ on back b.r.
Purchased from Redfern Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Exh: French and English Lithographs, Etchings, Aquatints, Lithographed Affiches, Collotypes, Pochoirs, Redfern Gallery, Nov. 1956–Jan. 1957 (475); British Prints of the Post-War Years 1945–60, Redfern Gallery, Jan.–Feb. 1986 (57, repr., dated c.1957); Prints and Drawings from the Permanent Collection, Tate Gallery, July–Sept. 1987 (no cat.)

‘Woman with Dark Hair’ depicts a woman's head, shown in profile, connected via an elongated neck-shape to a circular motif suggesting folded arms beneath a striped jersey. These parts of the image are described entirely in line. They contrast with a passage of broadly brushed marks which describes the figure's hair. This passage also connects the head and arms. These figurative elements are combined with what appear to be abstract forms: a rectangular shape at top right, and a square form printed in white just below centre which is joined to a triangular shape behind the head of the figure. The image is printed in black, white and cream.

The semi-abstract nature of this motif reflects the influence of contemporary avant-garde developments in Paris and is typical of Hilton's work in the late 1940s. Hilton visited Paris on several occasions during that decade and his familiarity with Picasso's painting of the late 1940s is evident in his use of flattened, simplified shapes and linear forms. Shortly after this print was executed Hilton's work gravitated towards complete abstraction as he responded to the example of painters such as Manessier and Gear.

Although signed, the Tate Gallery's example of this print is undated. Nevertheless, its date is thought to be 1949 because a similar image (in the collection of Ronnie Duncan, Yorkshire), which presumably was executed around the same time, is signed and dated ‘RH 49’ (exhibited in Roger Hilton: The Early Years 1911–55, Leicester Polytechnic Gallery, 1984, no.116 as ‘Figure’ and Roger Hilton: Paintings and Drawings 1931–1973, AC, 1974, no.7). That example is identical in composition but was titled ‘Figure’ in the above exhibitions and is printed in different colours, namely black and lilac. When exhibited at the Redfern Gallery in 1957 and 1986, P 77164 was titled ‘Woman with Dark Hair’ and the 1986 Redfern catalogue gives the date as c.1957. The origin of these different titles is unknown and it would appear that this later date is incorrect.

P77164 is an unnumbered artist's proof and the size of the edition is not known. In a reply to a questionnaire from the compiler, received on 26 February 1987, Gordon Samuel of the Redfern Gallery stated that he thought that only proofs had been printed, probably by Jean Pons in Paris, adding that these examples had probably been published privately by the artist.

Some idea of the genesis of P77164 may be gleaned from a working proof incorporating collage elements which is also in the collection of Ronnie Duncan. In a letter to the compiler dated 18 October 1994, Ronnie Duncan gave the following description of this related work:

The collaged copy, on close examination turns out to be very much a working proof. The added mauve printed paper originally extended to the leaf-tip shape behind the figure's head: then was torn away and black-printed (or inked) paper added to link the cascade of hair to the head. The lower right part of the mauve paper required over-drawing in charcoal to link the hatched lines.

It appears, therefore, that this working proof may have been a preliminary study for the variant in the Tate Gallery collection.

In the same letter, Ronnie Duncan enclosed a photograph of another related work on paper by Hilton, inscribed 'Roger Hilton ‘49’ at bottom left. Although the technique employed cannot be ascertained from the photograph, this work resembles P77164 stylistically and it seems that the two works may have been executed around the same time. If so, this would provide further reason for ascribing an earlier date to P77164. The related print was executed in two colours, black and blue, and it depicts a woman's head and torso shown facing the picture plane. As in P77164, the facial features are greatly simplified and described in line. The hair and torso comprise flattened shapes in black and blue respectively. The title and whereabouts of this related work are not known. However, in 1949 Duncan Grant invited Hilton to participate in the exhibition Original French and English Lithographs and Monotypes held at the Redfern Gallery that December. Hilton showed one work, recorded in the accompanying catalogue as ‘Figure in Blue and Black’ (no.172). It is possible that this work and the one which appears in Ronnie Duncan's photograph are one and the same.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996