Roger Hilton (1911-1975)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Roger Hilton (1911-1975)

September 1959

Roger Hilton (1911-1975)
September 1959
signed and dated 'HILTON/SEP '59' (on the reverse)
oil and charcoal on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1959.
with Waddington Galleries, London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 26 November 1969, lot 104, where purchased by the present owner's father.
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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Lot Essay

‘Painting is feeling. Just as much as a sentence describes, so a sequence of colours describes … I feel the shape and colours inside myself. I have the feel of a work rather than a vision of it.’
-Roger Hilton

By the middle of the 1950s, Roger Hilton was considered to be one of England’s most radical and creative painters, with his dynamic and expressive compositions, establishing him as a pioneer of post-war British abstraction. Although he vacillated between non-representation and figuration throughout his career, he was dedicated to the promotion of abstract art at this period, believing it to be a more powerful and accurate way to articulate and explore the changes happening in post-war Britain. He stated, ‘Abstract art is the result of an attempt to make pictures more real, an attempt to come nearer to the essence of painting.’

Having initially studied at the Slade, Hilton went on to continue his studies in Paris, where he became immersed in the European art scene. In particular, he found inspiration in Tachism and practitioners such as Serge Poliakoff, which helped him begin to formulate his own individual practice. The distinctive style for which he is now renowned developed rather late in his career following a long period of experimentation. In particular, Hilton believed a large shift occurred for his work in the mid-1950s. This was in part due to the influence of Constant Nieuwenhuys, who had received a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain and come to England to study in 1952. Nieuwenhuys, with his strong use of colour, encouraged Hilton to explore with bolder compositions, and paint with a new sense of spontaneity, which can certainly be felt in his work from the latter half of 1950s, such as in September 1959.

September 1959 comes from a particularly dynamic and important point in Hilton’s career. Already well established, having his first retrospective at the ICA in 1958, Hilton had begun to consolidate his position as one of Britain’s foremost painters. In 1959, he was taken up by the dealer Leslie Waddington, and from this point his career went from strength to strength: he won the John Moore’s painting prize for innovation in 1963, followed by the UNESCO prize at the Venice Biennale the following year. September 1959 encapsulates the strength of his creative output of this period, displaying all the key characteristic of the artist’s finest work: the dynamic interplay between mediums, utilising oil, charcoal, and the blank canvas to play with the traditional boundaries of paintings, emphasising the pictorial surface, the abstraction of forms, and the simplification and reduction of tone.

By this point, Hilton was producing a large number of abstract works, and had begun simply naming them after the year and month in which they were painted. In the present work, Hilton presents an abstract composition of black and red forms, which seem suspended somewhere between the organic and the geometric. With his use of contrasting media, thickly applied and richly textured oil paint alongside the shadowy charcoal, and bold shades of red and black, Hilton conveys here, a richness and a vitality. Hilton began using charcoal in 1956, and by this point it had become as crucial to his practice as paint. Here, Hilton plays with the hierarchy of media in European art practice, subverting the expected role of charcoal as merely a preparatory medium. Indeed, often he applied charcoal to the canvas last as a finishing touch, giving the piece a sense of rawness.

Hilton led the way for a new type of abstraction in the British artistic landscape, producing highly original and dynamic pieces. Perhaps one of his greatest skills was his ability to capture a sense of sprezzatura, so that his canvases appeared effortless, even though in reality they were very carefully considered. In September 1959, with its loose and painterly strokes, the work seems effortless and almost nonchalant in its composition, as if painted quickly in one sitting. In all likelihood, it was; Hilton favoured painting in short swift bursts. However, the confidence of the strokes also demonstrates his high level of preparation. Between 1959 and 1960 he got into the habit of completing a pile of drawings over breakfast every day, which he would then take to the studio to translate onto the canvas. He would then paint directly onto the canvas, whilst trying to retain the same sense of spontaneity captured in the original sketches. In September 1959 Hilton succeeds in his attempts, retaining the sketch-like quality, in loose strokes of charcoal and organic shapes, which leaves the work with a wonderful visceral energy and sense of immediacy.

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