An appreciation of Derek Hill (LI 1930-33)

Derek Hill, a former pupil at Marlborough College, went on to become Director of the British School in Rome before devoting his life to painting and art collecting. He was born on this day in 1916. Edward Twohig, our Head of Art, has written this short article in appreciation:

Inspirations come and go, though artistic heroes tend to be more sustained and a perpetual source of presence, guidance and learning. Derek Hill (1916-2000), for me, is one of the rare latter. I had the honour of meeting this man for about an hour in his art filled Hampstead studio in 1995. Growing up in Ireland in the 1980’s one almost genuflected at the name of this legendary artist who was given a sort of national reverence. Why, you may ask? The short answer is this great man was multi-talented and an inspirer. Derek Hill revolutionised the British School in Rome, founded the Tory Island School of Painting, encouraging the now famous James Dixon, to take up the brush. And, spurred on by James Dixon’s success, other islanders began to paint, the best known are Patsy Dan Rodgers (the King of Tory), Ruairí Rodgers and Anton Meenan, all of whom have painted consistently for many decades now. In 1980 Derek Hill gave his house, near Letterkenny in Donegal, containing his world-class art collection, to the Irish nation. He was created a CBE in 1997 followed by an Hon. Membership of the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, where he had a retrospective exhibition. Derek was made an Hon. Irish citizen the year before he died.

Derek’s love of art was first fostered while at Marlborough College under Christopher Hughes (1881-1961) who was Head of Art here from 1920 to 1946. After Marlborough, Derek worked in a variety of roles from theatre design in Russia to curating in London and living in Florence via farming in Somerset and a spell of teaching before settling down to a career as a painter of expressive impressionist/realist landscapes, cityscapes and portraits.

“Snow over Rome” was painted in 1959. Today it hangs in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The photograph above shows Lower Sixth Marlburian Artists in front of this painting on a recent visit.

Derek’s work is displayed in galleries across the world such as this composition in the Tate Gallery.

As mentioned, with munificent generosity, Derek gave his long-time home, St Columba House and it’s Glebe Art Gallery containing his exquisite art collection acquired over a lifetime, to the Irish nation. It continues today as a national cultural centre. It’s rooms are decorated with wallpapers designed by fellow Marlburian, William Morris (AA 1848-51).

The Glebe Art Gallery contains the Derek Hill Collection of Victorian and 20th Century art works, including ceramics by Picasso and key works by Hokusai, Edgar Degas, Graham Sutherland, William Scott and John Craxton, the latter three were close friends of Derek’s. The Irish element of this collection is noted for its Tory Island paintings and important compositions by Evie Hone and Louis Le Brocquy. An online tour of this house can be found here as well as some highlights amongst a necklace of visual delights showing Derek Hill’s erudition, acute skill and eye for quality.

Over the last half-century Derek’s artistic influence has been potent, positive and wide ranging.

More detailed information on Derek’s life can be found here.

And, this is Derek’s insightful obituary – written in 2000 by former Chairman of the Arts Council and Sotheby’s, Grey Ruthven, 2nd Earl of Gowrie.

Happy 102nd birthday to you Derek Hill CBE Hon. RHA in fond memory and profound appreciation.

Edward Twohig RE
Head of Art

You may also like