Visual Arts in Ayrshire

The Maclaurin Art Collection  ~  Middle Period Purchase

Roger Hilton CBE 1911 - 75

1. Hilton

2.   1970


Roger Hilton CBE 1911 - 75

1.   Untitled (Dancing Figure) c.1968 - 72  Oil and charcoal on hardboard  1219 x 1219mm.  Maclaurin Art Collection.  Purchased 1987 from Waddington Galleries with financial support from the Local Museum Purchase Fund.   This work was found by the Gallery Director, Mike Bailey.  Reproduced in the book Roger Hilton, by Adrian Lewis, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003.

Exhibited in A Different Way of Working: The Prints of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and St Ives Painting, The Dick Institute, Kilmarnock, 19th January - 11th May 2013.

2.   Roger Hilton in his studio, Botallack, c.1970. Photograph by ©Jorge, Lewinski.

St Ives had a well-established artistic community in the 1940s, and was beginning to attract a new generation of artists who were involved in modern movements in art, including Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Wilhelmina Barns Graham, Patrick Heron and Terry Frost.  It was felt that this movement  and the St Ives painters were under-represented in Scottish Collections.  The Maclaurin adopted a conscious policy to remedy this deficit by acquiring representative works of the St Ives School and presenting exhibitions of their work.

By 1997, the collection included significant works by Sir Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton and Wilhelmina Barns Graham and the gallery had presented exhibitions highlighting the work of Barns Graham and Heron, the latter project being originated by the gallery in collaboration with the artist.

In addition to this painting, the collection includes a drawing by Hilton (featured in the 1973 Waddington Galleries Exhibition) acquired from Cyril Gerber Fine Art.

[Text based, in part, on Gallery records and personal recollections.]

Roger Hilton CBE 1911 - 75 was a pioneer of abstract art in post-war Britain. Born in 1911, at Northwood, London, Hilton studied at the Slade School of Fine Art with Tonks and in Paris, where he developed links with painters on the Continent.

Wartime service with the army followed and, as a Commando participating in the 1942 Dieppe Raid, he was captured and imprisoned for three years.  Post war, he found employment as a schoolteacher and also taught at Central School of Arts and Crafts, 1954-56.

From 1950 to 1952 Hilton turned from his early figurative painting to a form of abstraction, and from around 1956 he was compared with the Abstract Expressionists. During the 1950s and 1960s Hilton spent more time in west Cornwall, moving there permanently in 1965.  He became a prominent member of the St. Ives School and gained an international reputation. He won the 1963 John Moores Painting Prize, and was appointed CBE in 1968.

By 1974 Hilton was confined to bed with a muscular disease, a condition precipitated in part by alcoholism.  At this time his work became less abstract, often being based on the nude or images of animals.  In these final years, working increasingly on paper, Hilton returned to the childlike subjects that had characterised his early work: animals, boats, a horse and cart and nudes. Dreams of sensual (often sexual) pleasure co-exist with worries concerning impotence, ill-health and approaching death.

For many people Hilton's 'Dancing Nudes' are definitive, albeit a very small part of his output between 1968 and 1972. He is presented by such works in the collections of the Tate Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

In 1992, during a visit to the Maclaurin Art Gallery, Dr David Brown, sometime assistant keeper at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, where he organised a Roger Hilton exhibition that caused a small sensation in Morningside, claimed that there were only five 'dancing figure paintings' in Hilton's oeuvre'; one in the possession of the Tate Gallery, one in the possession of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and two in his personal collection.  The fifth painting had been acquired by the Maclaurin Art Collection.


This page is based on recollections by Mike Bailey, Gallery Director 1976 - 1997 , and other published sources.   Mrs Mary E Maclaurin's Trust is a Registered Scottish Charity

Top  ~     ~   Roger Hilton ~ David Brown

Maclaurin Art Collection ~ Updated March 5, 2016