John Hill

Interior of the Carpenter’s Shop at Forty Hill, Enfield

?exhibited 1813

Not on display

John Hill c.1780–1841
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 470 × 688 mm
frame: 577 × 794 × 87 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983

Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas 18 1/2 × 27 1/8 (578 × 794)
Inscribed (? c. 1900) on label pasted to back of original canvas (now separately preserved) ‘Interior of the Carpenter's Shop at Forty Hill Enfield painted | by John Hill of Forty Hill about | 1800 his first finished picture | he was entirely self taught | exhibited at Somerset House’
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983
Prov: ? Given by the artist to Nancy Hill (? his niece, d. 1899, having married Henry Want); Henry Want; Mrs M. Want (old storage label in her name formerly on back); ...; anon. sale Christie's South Kensington, 10 November 1982 (112) bt Anthony Reed, from whom purchased for the Tate Gallery 1983
Exh: ? RA 1813 (333, as ‘Interior of a Carpenter's Shop’); Spring Medley, Anthony Reed, March 1983 (14, detail repr.)
Lit: Jack Warans, ‘Inside Two “Carpenters' Shops”’, The Tate Gallery 1982–84, Illustrated Biennial Report, 1984, pp. 22–5, repr. in col. p.22

This is almost certainly the picture exhibited at the RA in 1813 and, again almost certainly, depicts John Hill's own workshop or that of his father Thomas Hill (d.1814), also a carpenter.

Five other paintings by John Hill depicting landscape in and around Forty Hill were included in Christie's 1982 sale, all bought by Anthony Reed and (with T03668) exhibited by him in 1983 (nos. 14–19). Each painting had an old label pasted on the verso; from transcripts made by Anthony Reed, and from information supplied to him by G. Dalling, Borough Librarian, Enfield (all kindly given by Anthony Reed to the Tate's archives), various facts relating to Hill emerge. In the 1841 Census for Enfield, Hill's occupation is given as ‘builder’; he lived at the junction of Forty Hill and Goat Lane, almost certainly in a house called Worcester Lodge (the subject of one of his paintings, no.18 in Reed's 1983 exhibition). In the Enfield section of Pigot's Directory, 1839, John Hill is listed as a carpenter, and his address is given simply as Forty Hill. John Hill died on 21 November 1841, leaving no issue; he must have been born between 1779 and 1783, for the 1841 Census Returns (which rounded ages up or down to the nearest five years) give his age that year as sixty.

The interior depicted in T03668 is that of a small joinery shop, flagstoned and largely timber-built, with a view of the countryside seen through an open window at the back of the shop. It is at this vantage point that the master carpenter (distinguished from his assistants by his moleskin hat and dark jacket) is portrayed at work, planing timber. His two assistants are in shirt-sleeves; each wears the traditional carpenter's cap made of stout white paper folded into a box-like shape (also worn by the Carpenter in Tenniel's illustrations to Alice: Through the Looking-Glass). John Hill may here portray himself as the master, unless the master is his father Thomas Hill (d.1814) and he himself is one of the assistants.

A detailed description of the tools and equipment in the workshop is given by Warans. These include a sash-cramp (for use in making sash windows), an adze, a gauge, a bow-saw and a coffin-maker's saw, a metal-working vice, various templates for objects used in house-building, such as staircase balusters, a picture-frame (perhaps an allusion to Hill's own pictures) and a carved eagle, perhaps the prototype of a carving for a church pulpit. Such details convey abundant information about the different sorts of work carried out in this shop.

Warans notes (pp.22–3) that ‘None of these details are picturesque props; all of them are painted from firsthand knowledge of the carpenter's trade. The three men at work in this interior are not posing for the artist. Each of them is absorbed in his work and in command of the task to which he is putting his skills’. He notes that each of the three men is evidently a fully-qualified carpenter, for each has beside him his carpenter's tool box, usually elaborately constructed and inlaid, which he would have made during his apprenticeship. Warans adds (p.23) that the only unrealistic note is the axe lying unprotected on the flagstones in the foreground (‘no carpenter would leave an axe on the floor like that’); otherwise he compares the realism of this picture to the unrealistic symbolism in the details of Millais's ‘Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter's Shop)’, N03584 in the Tate's collections, repr. Warans p.24.

Celina Fox, Museum of London, notes (in correspondence) that representations of craftsmen at work are rare in British art of this period, and suggests that this work is most closely related to Thomas Baxter's depiction of his father's china-painting workshop (Victoria & Albert Museum; exhibited at the RA in 1811, two years earlier than Hill's picture); possibly Baxter's picture inspired Hill to do something comparable. Hill also exhibited ‘A Carpenter's Yard, Enfield’ at the RA in 1820 (333).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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