Roger Hilton (1911-1975)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF COL. ALEX GREGORY-HOOD, O.B.E., M.C.The following two lots have been in the private collection of Alex Gregory-Hood (1915-1999), founder of the Rowan Gallery, who held a key role in changing the artistic views of a post-war British public. They, along with two further lots in the 23 November Modern British Art Day Sale, were particular favourites of his and they have remained in his family’s collection until now.In 1958, Alex Gregory-Hood, was promoted to Colonel commanding the Grenadier Guards and nominated for the Imperial Defence college, which would have led to him becoming a General at a remarkably early age. Legend has it that he asked for 30 minutes to think things over and went for a walk in St James's Park. He returned to Whitehall - and announced his intention of opening an art gallery. In due course, in 1960, he resigned his commission and two years later the Rowan Gallery opened its doors in Lowndes Street, Belgravia. The importance of the gallery in bringing new British abstract and experimental art before the public cannot be overstated (see J. Golding, The Guardian, Obituaries, 28 July 1999).The Rowan Gallery is perhaps best remembered as the gallery that represented Bridget Riley from 1967 and later Sean Scully, (see lot **, 22 November 2017) who remains a friend of the family. Further gallery representations included Antony Donaldson; Brian Fielding; Barry Flanagan (see lot **, 23 November 2017); John Golding; Anthony Green; Paul Huxley; Phillip King; Michael Craig-Martin; Jeremy Moon; Mark Lancaster and William Tucker. He met two key Cornish artists, Roger Hilton (see lot **, 22 November 2017) and Terry Frost (see lot **, 23 November 2017) through his friendship with the sculptor Roger Leigh, studio assistant to Barbara Hepworth.Bryan Robertson, the highly influential curator of The Whitechapel Art Gallery from 1952 to 1968 commented ‘Gregory-Hood liked to relax in the country and it was disconcerting after getting used to him as an art gallery director dressed in impeccably conventional dark suits, shirts and ties to find him sweeping into dinner in a patterned flowing kaftan worn in a highly degage manner over purple tights’ (see B. Robertson, The Independent, Obituaries, 14 July 1999).
Roger Hilton (1911-1975)

December 1960

Roger Hilton (1911-1975)
December 1960
signed and dated 'HILTON/DEC '60' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 50 in. (101.6 x 127 cm.)
Alex Gregory-Hood, circa early 1960s, and by descent.
London, Arts Council of Great Britain, Serpentine Gallery, Roger Hilton Paintings and drawings 1931-1973, March 1974, no. 49.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Louise Simpson
Louise Simpson

Lot Essay

Roger Hilton (1911-75) was a late developer, and none of his pre-war work gives any indication that in the mid-1950s he would become one of England’s most radical and inventive abstract painters. A Francophile of broadly European sensibility, Hilton studied at the Slade and in Paris, but didn’t begin to discover his own voice until the 1940s, evolving his own version of the tachism of Serge Poliakoff crossed with the Neo-plasticism of Constant Nieuwenhuys. His progress through the 1950s was remarkably swift and assured as he delved deeper into the language of organic lyrical abstraction, arriving finally at the kind of major and highly original painterly statement of December 1960.

This is a painting about paint, not narrative or anecdote, and as such must be assessed formally and aesthetically. The ochre, part of the inverted cone of grey, and the white, are laid on boldly with broad buttery sweeps, probably with a palette knife, in a seemingly simple compositional arrangement which actually embodies great subtlety. Hilton plays fast and loose with juxtaposition and layering, the whole painting giving the impression of having been dashed off in one inspired session. Actually his practice was to paint quickly, in short bursts, and to ponder long. The look of spontaneity is hard-won, the marks and dispositions of the paint well-worked. Hilton arrived at the apparently effortless certainty of his gesture by extensive pre-meditation, and a limbering-up process of drawing. It was his habit at this period to loosen the wrist (and the mind) with a sheaf of drawings carried out on the breakfast table every morning before leaving home for the studio. The unfeigned spontaneity of the drawings was then (with luck) carried through into the paintings, as it is triumphantly in December 1960.

In fact, Hilton’s mature style intentionally brought the notion of the sketch to the finished picture, thus generating a new immediacy in the work. Charcoal drawing played a crucial role in Hilton’s paintings from about 1956 onwards, so much so that his medium is really a dual one: oil and charcoal. In this work the charcoal drawing is mostly reserved to the lower portion of the canvas, specifically at the bottom left and the bottom right. But there are traces elsewhere, for Hilton’s procedure was essentially one of layering and letting the previous marks and colours come through from underneath in hints and accents. The complexity of the layering belies the immediacy of the image: white paint overlays charcoal, grey overlays white, ochre overlays grey. Red bleeds through the area of brushily-worked black at the right edge. All these colour areas and quantities are exquisitely controlled while giving the appearance of great naturalness.

The shapes are intriguing. Although the basic grammar of the painting is composed of blocks and wedges, the various forms have an organic presence far from any geometric prototype. The painting’s particular dynamic is based upon the grey cone which links the painterly activity at the top to what is happening at the bottom, while providing a sense of space and movement. This is also enhanced by the charcoal ‘legs’ beneath the cone, and the additional one below the black area on the right. Any slight figurative suggestions in so resolutely abstract an image are located around this area of the painting. December 1960 comes from the best period of Hilton’s work, when his greatest achievements in oil paint were made and he was consolidating his reputation, having been taken up by the dealer Leslie Waddington in 1959. In 1963 he won first prize at the John Moores exhibition, and in 1964 he won the UNESCO Prize at the Venice Biennale. In 1960, Hilton’s career was at its height.

We are very grateful to Andrew Lambirth for preparing this catalogue entry. Andrew Lambirth is author of Roger Hilton: The Figured Language of Thought (2007), and co-curator of Roger Hilton: Swinging out into the Void, held at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, in 2008.


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