Roger Hilton, CBE. 1911 -1975 Researched by Angela Ball

Roger Hildesheim was born in Northwood, Middlesex in 1911. The family name was changed to Hilton during the First World War due to anti German feeling.

He trained at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1929 – 1931, and then studied in Paris.  Initially his work was mainly figurative and he had a much acclaimed solo exhibition at the Bloomsbury Gallery in 1936.

In the Second World War he served in the Royal Commandos, was captured and spent the following three years as a prisoner of war (as did his friend and fellow painter Terry Frost). His first solo exhibition at the Bloomsbury Gallery in 1936 was much acclaimed, and brought critical attention.   He served in the Royal Commandos in the Second World War (1940 -42), was captured and spent the following three years as a prisoner of war, (as did his friend and fellow painter Terry Frost.)

oi oi oi
Oi, Yoi, Yoi Roger Hilton 1963 Tate Collection
Composition in Orange, Black and Grey 1951-2 by Roger Hilton 1911-1975
Composition in orange black & grey 1951 Tate Collection

After the war he trained as a school teacher, subsequently teaching at the Central School of Art & Design between 1954 -1956.   Having initially been seen as a figurative artist, in the early 1950s he became a pioneer in the Abstract Movement which emanated from St. Ives, and was part of a group that included Terry Frost and William Scott; similarities between their work – especially with the latter – have been noted by some art critics/writers. He began to paint increasingly with the St Ives school, renting a studio in Newlyn every year, and becoming a member of the Penwith Society .

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Peguod 1967 Government Art Collection

At the time abstract art had many enemies but very few friends.  Initially his paintings were considered more radical than anything seen before; it has been stated that Hilton liked to say that an artist was “a man swinging out into the void” as though each painting was an exploration into the unknown.  However he gradually began to incorporate figure suggestions into his painting.   He wrote to Terry Frost:  “I am tired of non-figuration. I am in future going to introduce if possible a markedly human element in my pictures.   I’m not going to (be) afraid of figuration any more. I feel now this tiresome dichotomy had ended.”

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Figure,” 1955. Oil painting, 29 x 19ms.” Cornwall Council Schools Art Collection

“Figure”, (the painting in this exhibition) was painted in 1955, when his first marriage was breaking down and it was a turbulent time in his life. He continued to paint annually with the St. Ives’ School, but did not wish to be associated too closely with it.   In 1965 Hilton moved to live fulltime in Botallack, near St. Just with his second wife, Rose (Phipps), who, since his death has been recognised as a well-respected artist in her own right.   In 1964 he won the UNESCO Prize at the Venice Biennale, and in 1968 was awarded a C.B.E.

Foliage with Orange Caterpillar 1974 by Roger Hilton 1911-1975
. Foliage with orange caterpillar 1974 Tate Collection

Hilton’s last years were spent as an invalid. Years of heavy drinking had taken its toll.   He was bedridden with a muscular disease and could only use one arm.  During this time he returned to the figurative style of his early years, painting childlike subjects such as boats, animal, horse and carts using gouache on paper and producing what have been described as some of his most colourful works.


“Hilton, Roger” Oxford Dictionary of Art & Artists 2009 Oxford Reference Online.

(www.independent entertainment/exhibitions).

BBC – Your Paintings – Roger Hilton


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