Rowland Hilder, artist teacher and author, was born (1905) in New York, United States, to Roland Hilder (without the ‘w’ – accidentally included on his son’s birth registration) and his wife Kitty, nee Fissenden. Hilder’s parents were initially from Kent, and it is there to which the family returned, his father enlisting in the Royal Horse Artillery, at the outbreak of the 1914-18 war.
Both Hilder’s father, himself an amateur painter and sketcher, and the art master at Hilder’s school in England, encouraged Hilder to draw. After school Hilder enrolled as a student at Goldsmith’s College of Art, London, where his tutors included the noted illustrator Edmund J. Sullivan – someone whom Hilder would recall as influential in suggesting that after training he sought professional engagement as an illustrator. Whilst at Goldsmith’s, however, Hilder met and married Edith Blenkiron (1903-1992), fellow student and botanical artist, and together they had a son, Anthony, and a daughter, Mary.
Upon leaving Goldsmith’s, Hilder used his skills as draughtsman on commissions for book illustrations from Oxford University Press – then publishing a new edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1929) – and for Jonathan Cape’s edition of Mary Webb’s Precious Bane (1930). Hilder worked on these latter illustrations whilst staying in Mary Webb’s house in Shropshire. With both his wife and mother staying indoors during the day, Hilder would trudge the frozen winter ground collecting material, both for use in his illustrative work, but also for a newly found interest in landscape painting.
It is as a landscape painter for which Hilder is now best known. There are two places which, in his work, Hilder most explores: the river Thames – its ships and waterways which he knew well as a child, and the Kentish weald – in particular, because it was in cycling distance from Goldsmith’s, the Shoreham valley. The Shoreham valley became a locale to which he returned throughout his life, and it is imagery derived from here with which Hilder is most associated.
Hilder was contemporaneous with Claughton Pellew (see Artists), John and Paul Nash (see Artists) Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious (see Artists), and in many ways he shared their preoccupations. Themes of rural peace and harmony are explored, and in antithesis, a rejection of modernity. But whereas Claughton, and particularly Ravilious, often explore the tension between the pastoral and the modern, in a typical Hilder landscape pastoral aspects are in the ascendant.
The land is often, for Hilder, a place of plenty, even when winter scenes are depicted, and recurrent imagery is of lanes and waterways, rivers in spate, the silence of newly fallen snow, farm buildings and by-gone aspects of farming practice.
Hilder worked with oil but watercolour was very much his preferred medium. There is, of course, an English tradition of watercolourists stretching from Cozens and Girtin to Turner and Cotman, and Hilder can be situated within this; but whilst cognizant of this tradition, Hilder was himself never taught watercolour. He developed the skills after his training, and he wrote several books on the process (Starting Watercolour, 1966; Expressing Land, Sea and Sky, 1982). He also taught his skills at Farnham School of Art, and as professor of art at his alma mater, Goldsmith’s. And his pre-eminence as a watercolour artist was soon recognized: in 1938 he was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Water Colours, and in 1964 he became president of the Institute.
Hilder was appointed OBE in 1986. He continued to paint into his retirement and died on the 21st April, 1993.
Public Collections holding work by Rowland Hilder include:
The V & A, London; National Gallery of Australia.