Roger Hilton (British, 1911-1975) October 1955 111.7 x 86.3 cm. (44 x 34 in.)

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Lot 49AR
Roger Hilton
(British, 1911-1975)
October 1955 111.7 x 86.3 cm. (44 x 34 in.)

Sold for £ 150,250 (US$ 205,306) inc. premium
Roger Hilton (British, 1911-1975)
October 1955
signed, inscribed and dated 'HILTON/OCT '55/44" X 34"' (verso)
oil on canvas
111.7 x 86.3 cm. (44 x 34 in.)


  • Provenance
    With Waddington Galleries, London, where acquired by
    Dr. Charles Damiano
    With Waddington Galleries, London, where acquired by
    Ken Powell
    With Austin Desmond Fine Art, London, 2004, where acquired by
    Robert Devereux
    His sale; Sotheby's, London, The Robert Devereux Collection of Post-War British Art in Aid of the African Arts Trust, 3 November 2010, lot 9, where acquired by the present owner
    Private Collection, U.K.

    Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, European Art Today: 35 Painters and Sculptors, organised by the British Council, 23 September-25 October 1959,; this exhibition travelled to Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum, San Francisco, North Carolina, North Carolina Museum, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 21 April-5 May 1960, New York and Baltimore
    Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, British Contemporary Paintings, organised by The British Council, 1965, this exhibition travelled to Cairo, Alexandria and Gibraltar
    London, Serpentine Gallery, Roger Hilton: Paintings and Drawings 1931-1973, organised by the Arts Council of Great Britain, 1-31 March 1974,
    London, Hayward Gallery, Roger Hilton, 4 November 1993-6 February 1994,; this exhibition travelled to Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, 26 February-9 April 1994 and Manchester, University of Manchester, The Whitworth Art Gallery, 21 April-12 June 1994

    Andrew Lambirth, Roger Hilton: The Figured Language of Thought, Thames and Hudson, London, 2007, p.97 (col.ill.)

    Like many of his generation, Hilton's development as an artist was abruptly interrupted by World War II. He volunteered for service at the age of 29, a commando, he was subsequently captured at Dieppe in 1942 and spent three years as a prisoner of war. Naturally he found it difficult to produce any art throughout the conflict, but as soon as peacetime returned, he set about working. These early post-war years saw limited success for Hilton as he endeavoured to re-start his career whilst also juggling several part-time jobs and a young family. Initially Hilton worked in the figurative mode he had developed pre-war. Yet towards the end of the decade his interest in abstraction heightened, primarily in the Parisian Tachisme movement (examples of which were first shown in London in December 1949). Thus, his output pivoted significantly and, with it, his career.

    It only took until 1951 for Hilton's efforts to be recognised, at first as part of the mixed exhibition Abstract Art at the AIA galleries in the summer of that year. The early patronage of Howard Bliss saw his work exhibited at the Tate Gallery the following spring, and by the summer of 1952 his first solo exhibition was held at Gimpel Fils. Working in a now entirely abstract approach described by Hilton as 'Neo Plastic', his paintings attracted the attention of key critics such as Lawrence Alloway and Patrick Heron. Both championed Hilton as a protagonist within a new wave of British abstract art by selecting his work for inclusion in key exhibitions such as Heron's Space in Colour at the Hanover Galleries in 1953. Further success followed with a second Gimpel Fils solo exhibition in 1954 and his position was cemented by his inclusion in Alloway's important Nine Abstract Artists published the same year.

    Amid such positive momentum one could be forgiven in assuming that Hilton had struck upon an approach to be explored for years to come. This however was not the case. Writing to Terry Frost just prior to the execution of the present canvas, Hilton volunteered 'I am tired of non-figuration. Though they may not be overtly figurative, I am going to introduce if possible, a more markedly human element in my pictures ... I'm not going to [be] 'afraid' of figuration anymore. I give prominence to space-creating forms, but I shall make human attachments as I see fit' (quoted in Adrian Lewis, Roger Hilton, Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, 2003, p.63). This new manner of working - the oscillation between abstraction and figuration, of which the present canvas is one of the earliest examples, henceforth dominated Hilton's output for the greatest part of his career. Hilton's importance was subsequently marked by his first retrospective held at the ICA in early 1958, which led to the Tate Gallery and the Arts Council both making their first acquisitions of his work.

    It is therefore not surprising that the importance of October 1955 within Hilton's oeuvre has been recognised on several occasions. Notably by Lawrence Alloway who selected it for inclusion in the 1959 British Council exhibition, its inclusion in the major 1994 Hilton retrospective at the Hayward Gallery and by Andrew Lambirth for inclusion in his 2007 monograph, in which he writes:

    'Hilton's forms of this period have a lively resilience that impresses through their strangely self-contained shapes ... The paint is rich and juicy, texturally varied and spontaneous. The image looks as if Hilton has copied down signs from another language, a visual language consisting of pictograms and hieroglyphics, so full of potential meaning do these pictures appear'. (Andrew Lambirth, Roger Hilton: The Figured Language of Thought, Thames and Hudson, London, 2007, pp.97-98).
Roger Hilton (British, 1911-1975) October 1955 111.7 x 86.3 cm. (44 x 34 in.)
Roger Hilton (British, 1911-1975) October 1955 111.7 x 86.3 cm. (44 x 34 in.)
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