Monet in Mind – Roger Hilton

Posted: 28th May 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Monet in Mind – Roger Hilton

Jess from the Future Ferens gives an insight into Dark Form on Yellow by Roger Hilton.

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Hello and Welcome to an in depth look at Dark Form on Yellow by Roger Hilton, an oil on canvas painting completed in 1959. Roger Hilton pioneered abstract art in post-Second World War Britain. Born in 1911, Hilton studied at the Slade School of art, an extremely influential establishment that birthed lots of well-known artists. In the 1930s he studied in Paris under Bissière and by the 1950s this is when his work becomes much more abstracted.

The abstract art movement, meaning art that contains simplified forms, is characterised by its gestural brush strokes and flowing movements, mimicking spontaneity. The movement became popular in Britain in the 1930s with artists such as Ben Nicholson and the sculptor Barbara Hepworth being key figures, helping British Art to become notable.

Our immediate attention is drawn to this ‘dark form’ pointed out in the title of the painting. The rough-edged form protruding from the left-hand side of the canvas has hints of red coming through but is primarily a muddy brown. We are then immediately drawn to a bright white bulb like form on the right-hand side of the canvas, the black outline continuing to spill into it.

This work in particular can in a way be seen as a protype for abstract art as it contains a lot of the features previously mentioned within it. The brush stokes are gestural and layered one on top of the other, sometimes the white canvas behind peeps through. Within the layering of the paint, we see remnants of previously bold colour covered with the dominant yellow paint, traces of red and black abstracted forms can be seen at the bottom of the canvas.

To try and understand what some of these forms might refer to, if anything at all, it is useful for us to look at what the artists inspirations were at the time. Hilton made frequent visits to St Ives in 1956 and from this time his work becomes slightly more pictorial. As you can image with Cornwall comes a lot of beaches, boats, rocks and water, with this work becoming completed in 1959, can we see any of these elements in this work? Well maybe. We can hint at certain forms having likeness to these scenes. The moon like form on the right-hand side of the painting is something that could be seen on a crisp night at the St Ives beach. Or perhaps a misty scene out at sea.

At the top of the canvas, we can see some shadow like play happening with circle shapes as well as zigzags and straight lines. They bring a different dimension to the work, no longer in the foreground the forms draw the eye back towards the top of the canvas, perhaps a shadow from us, the viewer, or a misty scene in the distance.

In 1961, Hilton drew away from abstract forms and returned to figures, creating some jokey female nudes which were to the shock of some admirers of his work as they had seen Hilton as only concerned with abstraction. Despite this, the nudes have become some of his most popular work, including Oi yoi yoi, 1963. During the end of his life, while bed bound, his work beings to have a childlike quality, focussing even less on abstract forms and more of figurative depictions of animals and nudes.

We hope you enjoyed this in depth look at Dark Form on Yellow by Roger Hilton. Come visit us at Ferens to find out more.