Rowland Hilder was one of the post popular painters of the mid-twentieth century. His work was widely reproduced as prints and on calendars and no Christmas mantelpiece would be complete without one of his cards. Hilderesque even became shorthand for a particular type of English landscape, mainly those of Kent with oast houses and winter trees.
In some ways, his work is an anachronism now, but that doesn’t have to mean there’s anything wrong with it or that it’s irrelevant, but then you do get a definite sense of a bygone age (even, for many of us, one within living memory) as you turn the pages of this new book. And, yes, it is new. In spite of the widespread distribution of Rowland’s work, there were only a few books actually devoted to him entirely, so most of what appears here does so for the first time in book form.
This is also a labour of love, and a very personal one. Rado Klose is Rowland Hilder’s son-in-law and also acted for many years as his photographer. He contributes a personal memoir of the artist and is also responsible for the selection of the illustrations, which he has chosen with a photographer’s eye. Nothing here is second-rate or nearly-good-enough: the quality of reproduction is superb, the more so when you consider that some of the original paintings date from before modern high-quality colour printing.
In point of fact, congratulations are due to everyone who’s had a hand in this book and it should be held up as an example of what can and should be done with this kind of material. The format is generous, allowing for decent-sized illustrations and these are themselves superbly reproduced. If you really wanted to quibble, you might wish it had been a hardback, but Hilder’s name doesn’t have quite the weight it once did and it’s not unreasonable that the publisher should hedge their bets, especially when you consider the cover price of £16.99, which is an absolute giveaway: that’s more the sort of price you’d expect after discount, not before.
Buy one for yourself and another one for anyone you know who cares about painting or the British landscape. If they don’t have to rush through a reprint, there’s no justice, none I tell you.
First published 2006