Tristram Hillier RA (1905–1983) was one of the most accomplished and distinctive 20th-century British artists. Painting for many years from a base in Somerset, he created pictures in a uniquely intense and memorable style. Now the first retrospective of Hillier’s work in more than 30 years is being held at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton from Saturday 9 November to Saturday 18 April. It is one of the most ambitious exhibitions the museum has ever staged.
Artworks from Across the UK
‘Landscapes of the Mind: The Art of Tristram Hillier’ brings together over 50 pictures from private lenders and from national and regional collections. Major works include Variation on the Form of an Anchor and La Route des Alpes from the collections of Tate Britain and Pylons and Quantoxhead from National Galleries Scotland.
The loans have been made possible by support from Arts Council England and from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund. The Western Loan Programme, created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to help smaller and local authority museums borrow art and artefacts from national collections.
“We are so delighted to support the Museum of Somerset and its exhibition on an international artist who called the region home. It’s incredible to see how much this programme is empowering venues like the Museum of Somerset and ensuring our national treasures can be seen by people in the context of their own area and local history,” Sophia Weston, Trustee of the Garfield Weston Foundation
Part of the Avant Garde
Hillier was educated by monks at Downside School in Somerset. After two years studying at Cambridge University he dropped out and was apprenticed to a London firm of chartered accountants. But, he quickly abandoned this career to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. In Paris he met and was influenced by members of the Surrealist movement. Many of his paintings evoke an air of other-worldliness. Incongruous objects and the use of unreal perspectives add a surreal quality. He was also part of the Avant Garde modernist group, Unit One, led by Paul Nash. Outstanding paintings by Nash, Edward Wadsworth and Ben Nicholson, lent by Tate Britain, also feature in the exhibition.
“Hillier’s work is full of intriguing symbolism for the viewer to unravel. Harnesses, anchors, pylons and abandoned signs of human activity appear repeatedly in his paintings, whose subjects span landscape, architecture, still-life and religious themes,” Sam Astill Head of Museums for the South West Heritage Trust.
Return to Somerset
Until 1940 Hillier lived happily in France. The Second World War forced him to flee with his wife and infant daughter to a new home in Somerset. For a time he served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, but the upheavals of the war and a difficult early life led in 1942 to a mental breakdown.
After the war Hillier painted consistently and Somerset became the workshop of his artistic life. He returned to Spain and Portugal for long periods where he worked to create preparatory sketches. But he always came back to his home in East Pennard, overlooking the Somerset Levels. He remained there, with his wife Leda, until his death in 1983. His work is now represented in collections around the world.
IMAGES: The Beach at Yport, Private Collection/Bridgeman Images; Barns in Winter, Private Collection/Bridgeman Images; Variation on the Form of an Anchor, Tate Britain; The Anchor, Private Collection/Bridgeman Images