Obituary: Rowland Hilder
Friday 23 April 1993
ROWLAND HILDER, the landscape painter and former President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, died nine months after the loss of his wife and collaborator, Edith, last summer.
Though of staunch English stock, Hilder chanced to be born in Long Island, New York, where as a child he caught his first glimpse of pictures hanging on walls when his father took him to the mansions of the resident millionaires. When war broke out the family sailed back to England; and when it was over a perceptive schoolmaster, recognising a natural talent for drawing, set him on the road to Goldsmiths' College, in London. There he joined the etching class, but soon transferred to drawing under the noted illustrator Edmund J. Sullivan, to which Hilder acknowledged a lifelong debt. He developed into a versatile illustrator and draughtsman, with commissions that ranged from a 1930 edition of Mary Webb's classic Precious Bane to marine subjects and boys' adventure yarns.
When, after all, he decided that watercolour painting was what appealed to him most, he could find no one to teach him; so he taught himself, by studying the classic English masters. He was duly elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, of which he served as President from 1964 to 1974.
After war service in camouflage operations he turned to popularising his art with the help of calendars and greetings cards, in the process introducing a vast new public to his work. His work touched a strain of nostalgia in the English for an unchanged and unchanging landscape.
It is hard to think of any landscape painter of his generation whose work is as widely known, and whose images - most typically of the Kentish Weald in the vivid dignity of winter - have taken such a hold on the public's affections. His favourite painting country was the rolling northern downland from Shoreham eastwards towards Maidstone. He was a great sailor and kept a coastguard's cottage at Shell Ness, at the mouth of the river Swale, as his base for marine painting.
Hilder was the first to see the drama and picturesque beauty of the oast-houses in Kent with their white caps and surrounding orchards. Perhaps his most notable work is The Garden of England (1945-50; he worked on it over several years) which was the most popular work at the exhibition 'Landscape in Britain 1850- 1950' staged at the Hayward Gallery, in London, in 1983. Hilder had a profound impact on the concept of landscape painting which appealed to enthusiastic amateurs. A visit to the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours in the Mall Galleries, London, still reveals groups of artists who paint in his manner, whether they know it or not.
The popularity of Hilder's imagery was enhanced by his collaboration with his wife Edith in illustrating Shell's Guide to the Countryside, serialised in the colour magazines Picture Post and Illustrated, reaching a readership of millions each week. Rowland would paint the landscapes and Edith the flowers.
Ever ready to share the mysteries as well as the pleasure of his craft, he taught, lectured and wrote about it in terms that won him ever wider affection and esteem.
He shares with John Constable the distinction of having seen an entire region of England identified with his name and art. The description 'Rowland Hilder country' evokes a landscape as distinctive as 'Constable's country' along the Suffolk Stour. That is as generous a tribute as any man could wish.
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