Rose Hilton 1931-2019

Rose Hilton née Phipps was a British painter living in Cornwall. Born in Kent, in 1931, she attended the Royal College of Art in London, winning the Life Drawing and Painting prize as well as the Abbey Minor Scholarship to Rome.


Upon her return to London, she began teaching art, and, in the late 1950s met her future husband, the leading abstract artist Roger Hilton. He died in 1975, aged 63. By then he was widely recognised, with Sir Terry Frost and Patrick Heron, as among the key figures in post-1950s British art. If, throughout their marriage, he insisted that Rose play second fiddle to him as an artist, he also contributed to what would become her later emergence as a colourist of formidable stature in her own right. Roger’s lifelong belief in the metamorphic potential of alcohol allowed Rose the space, covertly, to paint. As she put it: “Roger would often go off drinking with Sydney [Graham, the poet]. When he was gone and with the boys at school, I would paint.”


Before Roger took to his bed for his last years, Rose’s secret was discovered. “He smelt the turps and asked me to show him what I’d been doing — a still life. It was a very exciting, but fearful, moment for me.” Roger’s verdict? “He said, ‘If you must do this old-fashioned painting, I can help you do it better.’ I learnt more from him in an hour than I did in the whole of art school.” Following his death, she took up her brushes with gusto.


In 1977 she had her first solo show at Newlyn Art Gallery, and her post-impressionist, figurative paintings have achieved wide popularity. Her work is often compared to that of the French Nabi painter, Pierre Bonnard and is noticeably influenced by that of Henri Mattisse. In 2008, a retrospective of Rose Hilton's work was held at Tate St Ives.