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Abstract & Contents


Although described as an important collector of his time, little is known of Captain Henry Hill (1812 – 1882). Accounts of his life and career are confused and patchy. He is most often described as a retired soldier living in Brighton, which although true in part, in itself presents a misleading impression of the collector. Hill ran, with his brothers, a successful military tailoring business with premises in Bond Street, London and also in Paris. He lived and worked in the heart of the art market of Victorian England.

Reflections on Hill’s collection have also been quite general. An account of the collection written by Alice Meynell and published in the year of Hill’s death provides a contemporary perspective on the collection. An article written by Ronald Pickvance in 1963 titles Hill as an Untypical Victorian Collector.[1] This premise is based mostly on the part of Hill’s collection that includes modern French painters such as Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) and Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917). It is as an early English collector of Degas that Hill is most well-known. Despite being mentioned in passing in several studies of the history of the collecting of impressionism, other than these two accounts, surprisingly little has been written about him.  

This study proposes a reconsideration of Hill the man, and Hill the collector. Through piecing together archival information and secondary literature, it presents a more comprehensive understanding of Henry Hill. It also proposes a logic to his collecting that may open up new avenues for research and a better understanding of his motivations, and legacy as a collector. It concludes that Hill took advice from his artist friends in building his collection, and collected painters as much as the paintings themselves. It further concludes that the Hill collection holds a specific value in being considered as a whole.


[1] Ronald Pickvance was an Art Historian who specialised in the work of Vincent van Gogh and the Impressionists, and was Professor of Fine Art at the University of Glasgow 1977 – 1984.