Derek Hill

Sir Frederick Ashton


Not on display

Derek Hill 1916–2000
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 609 mm
Presented by the artist in memory of Sir Colin Anderson 1984

Display caption

Hill succeeded in combining a solitary existence in County Donegal with a reputation for a dazzling social life in London. His landscapes are boldly naturalistic, while his portraits depict many of the major figures in the London arts scene. This painting of Sir Frederick Ashton (1904-1988), then Director of the Royal Ballet, was the outcome of a 'vague arrangement' rather than a formal commission. Hill recounted that Sir Frederick had chosen not to buy it, saying in dismay, 'Oh, I hoped you'd make me look beautiful.' He later regretted his decision. Hill sold the painting to Sir Colin Anderson and it subsequently passed to Tate.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Derek Hill born 1916

T03888 Sir Frederick Ashton c.1964

Oil on canvas 508 x 609 (20 x 24)
Inscribed ‘DH' b.l.
Presented by the artist in memory of Sir Colin Anderson 1984
Prov: Sir Colin Anderson c.1964, passed to his daughter, Mrs Cationa Williams by descent 1980 and then to Derek Hill with a view to his presenting it to the Tate Gallery 1984
Exh: Derek Hill: Portraits and Landscapes, July-Aug. 1986, Red Barn Gallery, Fermoy Centre, Kings Lynn (3)
Lit: Kenneth Rose, ‘Albany at Large: "Two Sorts of Bars"', Sunday Telegraph, 18 Dec. 1983, p.2; Grey Gowrie, Derek Hill: An Appreciation, 1987, pp.108 and 110, repr. p.112. Also repr: About the House, vol.2, August 1968, p.54.

T03888 was painted in Sir Frederick's former London home at 8 Marlborough Street, SW3. It was the outcome of a ‘vague arrangement' between artist and sitter rather than an actual commission. They first met in 1937 when Hill designed the set and costumes for Sir Frederick's ballet ‘The Lord of Burleigh' with music by Mendelssohn, performed at Sadler's Wells Theatre. There were about four sittings. The portrait was painted directly from the sitter with no preparatory studies, either drawn or painted. There are no other versions, and Sir Frederick has not been painted by Hill at any other time. In a letter to Lord Hutchinson, then Chairman of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, dated 22 June 1984, the artist wrote:

It must be about twenty years ago now that Freddie asked me to paint him. As always I never accept a precise commission and, apart from a sitting-time fee, tell the ‘victim' that there is no need to purchase the picture if it is not liked. No help for me for people to have a Hill & to hide it & say it's disliked. Anyhow Freddie didn't like it and said with dismay "oh, I hoped you'd make me look beautiful". Naturally I did not then press him further & Colin Anderson who saw the picture, liked it & at once bought it & said then he'd like it to go to the Tate one day. Years later when David Hockney (we are the only painters who can sign our pictures D.H. he always says!) had done his crayon drawing of Freddie, Freddie told me how much he had regretted not keeping the Hill.

Sir Frederick Ashton (1904-1988) was Founder-Choreographer to the Royal Ballet after studying with the Ballet Rambert from 1926-33. He was the Royal Ballet's Principal Choreographer from 1933-70 and its Director from 1963-70. Sir Colin Anderson (1904-80), the first owner, was Chairman of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery 1960-7 and Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1961-73.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.174-5

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