You are here: Home » Story of Henry Hill » Chapter Five

Chapter Five

Influence and legacy

In any study of new material, there must come a point where the value of this knowledge as a contribution to a wider picture is considered. What, then, can the Hill collection and information about Hill as a collector tell us? What contribution does it make, if any, to the history of collecting? The Hill collection captures a moment in time in the 1870s where French realism and academy pictures in England were influencing a new generation of painters.

The year of Hill’s death represents a pivotal moment in English art. The year following this, Whistler sent Walter Sickert to Paris with an introduction to meet Degas. Until this point he had been Whistler’s apprentice, but meeting Degas changed the direction of his art and had a profound influence on his work. Had Hill lived longer, we may conjecture that his collecting may have progressed to Sickert, had they had the opportunity to meet when Sickert had embarked on his career as an artist. Maybe Hill’s attention would have been drawn to the Newlyn School or the London Society. In the 1880’s plein-air painting ‘ran riot’, and Newlyn became the central point for this new industry in painting. Whistler, Sickert and Stanhope Forbes became founding members of the New English Art Club, which had its first exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886. Perhaps Hill’s collecting would have led him back to the Grosvenor Gallery once more. Walter Sickert spent some of his early years with his family in Dieppe. Here he met painters associated with his father, including Scholderer, who painted a portrait of Oswald Sickert during the time when he was staying in Sussex, and who taught the young Walter.[216] Sickert’s third wife was Thérèse Lessore, daughter of Jules Lessore and grandaughter of Émile Lessore, bringing the Dieppe-Sussex connection and the threads of Anglo/French art full circle back to Hill’s collection.

The Hill collection can be viewed as a visual representation of the confluence of influences that laid the foundations for a new generation of English artists, including the New English Art Club. By attempting to understand it better, it is possible to show these artists and paintings as they were together at the time. Whereas Impressionism and Social Realism are now viewed as very different schools of art, in the 1870’s there was a cultural exchange between the new Impressionists and Social Realists, and a great deal of cross-over of ideas – less in terms of Victorian pre-occupation with narrative, but in terms of painting the everyday.

Treuhertz identifies the importance of the French influence on the new wave of painters in the 1870s and 1880’s.[217] He specifically mentions Deschamps’s gallery, Henry Hill and his lending of his French paintings, and the influence of Legros in encouraging ‘a more cosmopolitan interest in French art’. Legros certainly influenced collectors such as Ionides. These new painters retained, Treuhertz writes, a ‘deep interest in the observation of the humble and commonplace, stemming from French realism’ and that ‘the urban realism of English academic painters was also absorbed into the new art movement’.[218] Attempting to understand Hill’s collection helps to lessen the gap between social realism and impressionism that the subsequent history of the art market may have created. It helps to form a picture of artistic influence that informed later schools of artistic thought. His collection of contemporary art brought the new art of English Social Realism and French Realism and Impressionism together.[219]

The cultural direction of Brighton as a town engaged with an international scene of artists, had been set – in a large part indebted to the work and energy of Captain Henry Hill himself. This enterprise and legacy continued after his death. Constantine Alexander Ionides, who moved to Brighton in 1884, took up the mantle of Hill’s social and philanthropic ideals – his legacy to society. When comparing Hill with Ionides, there are differences, but also many similarities. These collectors were certainly buying some similar works from similar contacts at similar times (although on a different scale). This network of associates included Whistler, Fantin-Latour and Amié-Jules Dalou. Dalou met Henri Fantin-Latour in 1854 when he joined the Petite École in Paris. It is probable that Dalou also knew in Paris L’Hermitte and Cazin, who both came from this school.[220] If not in Paris, Dalou may have been introduced to J.M. Cazin and his wife Marie as part of the French community in England at that time. It may be through these connections that Hill knew Dalou, or through his patronage of the sculptor Edward Stephens R.A., whose work he also collected, or through the Brighton School of Science and Art and its connection with the South Kensington School of Art and Design, where Dalou taught.

Dalou, son of a glove maker socialist, lived in London from 1871 – 79, Hill’s prime buying years. The Christie’s sale records for the Hill collection lists five terra-cotta statuettes by Dalou of Une Boulognaise. Many works by Dalou are now held by the V&A including ones donated by Ionides and a descendant of Staats Forbes. Dalou made a gift of a bust of Helen Euphrosyne Ionides (1871 – 1967) to Constantine Ionides, as his first customer in England after he bought La Liseuse.[221]

Ionides had a social realist aspect to his collection. There are exceptions to this aspect such as his gold ground pictures, just as Hill had pictures by Strudwick in his collection. However, much of what Ionides collected including some of his Old Master paintings, had a social realist aspect such as the work of Le Nain brothers, and of course two paintings by Jean Francois Millet (1814 – 1875) from the Hill collection. They are listed in the Ionides exhibition catalogue of 1925. These are A Wooded Coast Scene, with a Statue of Terminus (1864/5) bought by Dowdeswell for £12 12s in the 1889 Christie’s sale, but bought (according to the collection catalogue) by Ionides from Messrs Buck and Reid, and Peasant at a Well (1854) bought by Messrs Buck and Reid for £78 15s also in the 1889 sale.[222]

Constantine Alexander Ionides became the collector associated with Brighton, especially as he bequeathed his collection in its entirety to the South Kensington Museum.[223] It may be more helpful to view Ionides’s influence on Brighton as a continuation of the role of philanthropic collector in Brighton that Hill founded. Ionides moved to Brighton in 1884. A Loan Exhibition from this year records his £25 donation towards the fund.[224] This loan exhibition shows how far Brighton had come in terms of cultural influence and importance at this time. The work that Hill and others had put in had created a network on which the town could draw. The Brighton School of Science and Art held the 1884 Brighton Loan Exhibition as a way to raise money to repay the mortgage on the building, which Hill had paid for. The event, then, was to repay Charlotte Hill. The vice presidents of this event included Frank Holl Esq. R.A. and Phil Morris Esq. R.A. They were both on the reference, selection and arrangement committee for the exhibition. Amongst others, Charlotte Hill lent pictures from her late husband’s collection and an example of lace from Honiton. The South Kensington Museum lent the loan exhibition a range of exhibits including carving, porcelain, and enamels – items 933 – 938 in the loan exhibition catalogue. Important dealers such as Mr and Mrs Martin Colnaghi and Messrs Agnew and aristocrats, including the Duke of Devonshire, contributed to the Old Masters section of the loan exhibition.[225] The modern oil paintings section included works by W. Holman Hunt, D. G. Rosetti, W. Frith and Sir E. Landseer. It is an influential list of names in Victorian society, on the loan exhibition list for a small town.

On his death in 1882, Mr. Henry Hill left his widow ‘the enjoyment during her life of his residence and furniture and stables and carriages, also of his galleries and his collection of pictures,’ as well as a legacy and annuity. He also left a bequest to the Tailors’ institution.[226] Charlotte Hill kept Henry Hill’s collection of paintings together (as far as one can tell) and it was only near the end of her life that the collection was sold and dispersed. Charlotte Hill (1814 – 1891) died on the 24th March 1891 at the age of 77.[227] The first Christie’s sale of Hill’s collection was on Saturday May 25th 1889, shortly before Charlotte’s death, suggesting that she had chosen to sell these pictures. The others were included in two sales over three days (Friday February 19, 1892, Saturday February 20, 1892, Monday Feb 20th 1893) after her death. She left an estate worth £15,595.13.0 and her will determined that her inheritance be split between her twelve nephews and nieces, as Henry and Charlotte had no children of their own. It has become clear that not all of the collection was sold at this time, and that some of the pictures had been sold previously, or were retained by the family. The family kept the portrait of Captain Henry Hill by Frank Holl, which they donated to the Brighton gallery. The Meynell article mentions both paintings and artists that do not figure in the Christie’s sale records, such as work by Charles Robert Leslie RA and Val Bromley, Ernest Duez, a Mr. Buckman (Football) and Vagabond by Mr. Barnard. The Monet was also not sold at the Christie’s sale, the one described by Meynell as ‘full of blossoms and spring feeling; a pretty, delicate distance, poplars, and a tender sky combine to make a most attractive picture’. There is a suggestion therefore that the Hill collection may have once been bigger.

Footnotes for Chapter 5:

[216] Otto Scholderer, Oswald Sickert (1876 – 77), Oil on Canvas, Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany.

[217] Treuhertz, Hard Times p. 109

[218] Treuhertz, Hard Times p. 110

[219] Bastien-Lapage as a ‘naturalist’ painter was inspiring to these new painters, and following from him, the impressionists and their depiction of modern life. Treuhertz, Hard Times, p. 110.

[220] Maurice Dreyfus, Dalou, sa vie et son oeuvre, (Paris: Laurens, 1903), p. 2.   

[221] V&A museum number A.10-1956, Object History note.

[222] Dowdeswell & Dowdeswell was a dealership established by the frame maker Charles William Dowdeswell (1832 – 1915) and his son Walter. The gallery at 133 New Bond Street exhibited works by the Impressionists in 1883, the year after Hill’s death, which was the first major exhibition of French Impressionism in London. Dowdeswell & Dowdeswell also exhibited the work of Whistler. In 1912, Walter joined the dealer Joseph Duveen.

[223] Because of the strict terms of this will, the collection remains together. A Vase of Flowers by Fantin-Latour, listed as Lot 24 in the 1889 Hill sale, and Munthe’s Winter were bought by ‘Ionides’ but the Christie’s records do not specify which family member. It may have been Alexander Ionides (1810 – 1890) rather than his son Constantine (1833 – 1900) which would explain why they do not form part of the Ionides bequest to the V&A.

[224] Brighton School of Science and Art, Brighton Art Loan Exhibition 1884, Catalogue, Brighton History Centre, BTNRP Ref: BHSB708.2B76[8] [accessed 20th February 2018]

[225] A copy of the 1884 Brighton Loan Exhibition catalogue is available to view at East Sussex Records Office BTNRP Ref: BHSB708.2B76[8]

[226] The Illustrated London News, July 1, 1882, p. 28.

[227] Vol. 2B p. 165, record set 1837-2007, City of Westminster Archives.