Exercise: Writing an Exhibition Review
Landscapes of The Mind: The Art of Tristram Hillier
The Museum of Somerset 9 November 2019 – 18 April 2020
A small exhibition featuring about 50 paintings acquired from both private collections and national galleries. This is the first time in 30 years that it has been possible to get a collection of Hilliers work together allowing us to rediscover his realistic, yet highly symbolic, landscapes.
Born in 1905, Hillier spent his childhood in England followed by many years in France, Spain and Portugal until settling in Somerset after WWII. His father died when Hillier was just 19 freeing him to follow his passion for art instead of a business career.
In 1934 he joined a group of artists known as ‘Unit One’ who focussed upon abstract and surrealist art. The group, including artists like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, would heavily influenced his work.
The exhibition cover his whole career right through from the 1930s to 1980s and is presented in chronological order interspersed with boards explaining each new phase. The layout is such that the visitor can easily navigate around the paintings getting a clear feel for how they developed over the years in line with his life and the changing World.
He was greatly influenced by the landscapes around him and loved to paint scenes from his travels to Europe. His realistic style is littered with symbolism relating to the effects of war, his own feelings and the fears for his family living in such troubled times. He would draw accurate sketches that he would then take back to his studio in England to paint. His meticulous study of fine detail and the textures around him bring life and interest to his landscapes. For example, in The Beach at Yport (1940), there is extraordinary detail on the netting and the brick wall in the mid ground. However the foreground rocks are almost featureless with the minimum of tones used to imply form. This combination ensures that the painting isn’t too precise and retains its dreamlike quality.
On first glance, The Vale from Cucklington (1944) depicts the usual idyllic scene of an English country church within the green countryside. However this was painted during WWII and you quickly notice that all is not as it should be with the landscape appearing rather neglected with broken gate and branches littering the road. Similarly, January Landscape (1962) shows an English countryside scene painted later in his life when in the depths of depression. Many of these later paintings lack the joy for life of earlier works, using a less vibrant colour palette and bleak compositions. This painting shows a long road ahead lined with featureless hedges and bare trees – a mirroring of his depressed state of mind.
The detail in each individual stone in the wall to the left in January Landscape is beautiful – the shadows, grooves and chips, the subtle variations in colour. Equally the bare trees show in phenomenal detail each branch and twig wonderfully backlit by the low winter sun. After exploring the composition as a whole and following the long road into the distance, you’ll find that you just have to go back to examine all that detail.
An informative and well curated exhibition, well worth a visit.
Landscapes of the Mind: The Art of Tristram Hillier (2020) [Exhibition]. The Museum of Somerset, Taunton. 9 November 2019-18 April 2020
Hillier, Tristram Paul, 1905–1983 | Art UK (s.d.) At: https://artuk.org/discover/artists/hillier-tristram-paul-19051983 (Accessed 21/02/2020).
Tate (s.d.) Tristram Hillier 1905-1983 | Tate. At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/tristram-hillier-1288 (Accessed 21/02/2020).
Tristram Hillier (s.d.) At: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/artists/tristram-hillier (Accessed 21/02/2020).
(Word Count: 524)