Rose Hilton’s is a life of two halves, the first considerably shorter than the second. A promising student at Beckenham School of Art (later part of Ravensbourne College), she was accepted at the RCA with a full scholarship. As well as a concise, but factually full, account of her early chapel-based life, Ian Collins includes a selection of early work that shows not merely promise, but a precocious talent and a distinctly individual voice. It is rare that juvenilia sit well beside mature works, but Rose’s do to the extent that you have to double-check the dates.
And then it all ground to a halt in 1965 when she married Roger Hilton, a pioneer of abstract art and adopted member of the St Ives School, who was twenty years her senior. A demanding man, Hilton seems to have wanted more of a personal assistant than a wife and effectively forbade Rose to pursue her own career. This 10 year sabbatical ended in 1975 with Roger’s death, at which point Rose’s creativity took off like the proverbial rocket. Suppressed for so long, she had had time to consider what it was she wanted from art and to develop her own vision, which sprang out pretty much fully-formed.
Illustratively, the book is dominated by the later works as Rose comes to be regarded as one of the country’s greatest colourists. Now in her eighties she is, he says, “painting better than ever”. Rose is also referred to as a “free spirit”, which perhaps has echoes of the effectual confinement of her marriage and her reaction to it.
This is a full account of the life and work of a major figure in contemporary art.
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