"I hope to become a centenarian," Jaro Hilbert told his students several months ago while he was sorting out his oil paintings and water-colours for a retrospective later this year. He was just three months short of his 98th birthday when he died.
Born at Krsko, Slovenia, of Czech parents, Hilbert started painting when he was eight years old, and after 10 years of vigorous study at the Prague Academy he astonished his family and compatriots when, in 1926, he chose Egypt as his future permanent base. For nearly 40 uninterrupted years he worked along the Nile Valley and in Palestine, capturing on large canvases the unique colours of the Middle East: the gold and red of the Mediterranean dawns and sunsets against the bright blue of the sky.
One of his most famous works during this period was The Last Supper, much admired by the Holy See and frequently exhibited in the Vatican. Its originality consisted in presenting the Apostles as typical Semitic types, Jewish and Arab. The work influenced a generation of Egyptian artists.
Greatly impressed by the monumentalilty of Corot's landscapes, Hilbert settled in 1962 at Ville de'Avray, near Paris. He transformed the Orangerie of the old chteau into a vast studio and, for the next 30 years, continued to interpret the elusive moods of nature.
His last large exhibition was held at the Mme de Pompadour Pavilion at the palace of Versailles. He had also recently painted all the bridges of Paris.