Roger Hilton



Roger Hilton 1911–1975
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 362 × 705 mm
Purchased 1974

Display caption

Although abstract, Hilton's work during the early 1950s has an impressionistic quality inspired by Bonnard's garden paintings. In 1953 Hilton's painting changed dramatically. Following a visit to Amsterdam and the Hague, where he was able to study Mondrian's painting, his ideas regarding space, form and colour were revolutionised. He ceased to regard the painting surface as if it was a window. Instead the forms are built up on it, emphasising its flatness. He also greatly simplified his use of shape and colour, restricting himself, as in this painting, to lines and squares in primary colours and black and white. These 'neo-plastic' works eliminate illusion and emphasise the physical, object-like quality of the painting.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T01932 UNTITLED 1953

Inscribed ‘HILTON 1953’ on back of canvas
Oil on canvas, 14 1/4×27 3/4 (36.3×70.6)
Purchased from Mrs Lucy Anderson (Grant-in-Aid) 1974
Coll: Mrs Lucy Anderson (purchased from the artist c. 1969)

In 1953 Roger Hilton, who had been painting non-figurative works since 1950, greatly simplified the composition of his paintings and abandoned the depiction of illusory pictorial space, under the influence of Constant, whom Hilton described as ‘a humanized Mondrian’ (conversation with compiler March 1974). When speaking of this period of his work (discussions with Alan Green printed in Studio International, March, 1974, 18, 117) Hilton said ‘They [his paintings] were influenced by this chap Constant, the Dutchman; who, in turn, was influenced by Mondrian. He came to stay in London. I went to see his things up at Notting Hill which rather impressed me, I must say. A new sort of painting and it did give me a sort of shift, and then he came to stay in our house, in the basement. Afterwards he went back to Amsterdam and I went with him, and then we went to Paris and so on. Anyhow, it was just seeing his paintings and also one or two straws in the wind. There was this collector, the brother of the man who conducts, or used to conduct, Howard Bliss. He used to collect a lot of stuff and he bought a lot of my paintings from Gimpel. I had one quite good one, actually. It was an early abstract and very complex...And he said, “Look. Why don't you take that picture and enlarge it?”, and this was an idea. It gave me a kind of clue. I thought “Why do you have to make this very complex affair when you could do it with just a simple figure?”. Well, with one thing and another I started to do very abstract abstracts. It wasn't a Mondrian type, it was more rugged’.

Hilton's paintings of 1953–4 were painted with a restricted palette of black, white, the primaries and a few earth colours. Some of the paintings retained figurative allusions, especially to the human body. T01932 is one of the simplest in composition and most uncompromisingly abstract of Hilton's works of the period. Hilton told the compiler (conversations of 17 February 1975) that the use of red, white and blue in T01932 was not related to the fact that it was painted in Coronation Year when many Union Jacks were displayed. There are slight traces of yellow in T01932.

A painting by Hilton ‘October 1953’, 8×24 in. in a private collection; is similar in composition to T01932, divided into 5 bands from the top to the bottom with ragged, not-quite vertical edges, of the canvas; unlike T01932 the colours are restricted to red, white and black, though there are traces of yellow ochre and blue-grey underpainting. The two paintings appear to be very close in date.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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