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Chapter One

Henry Hill and his Collection: a bibliographical review

The most substantial attempt to evaluate the significance of Henry Hill’s collection is an article in Apollo Magazine in 1962, by Ronald Pickvance who describes Hill as an ‘Untypical Victorian Collector’.[12] This assessment of Hill is based on the paintings in his collection, rather than any biographical account. Here Pickvance describes the ‘pioneering spirit’ shown by Hill in his collecting of ‘Degas, Monet, and, with less discrimination, Mme Cazin’.[13] In this article, Pickvance struggles to explain the collection. He highlights the Degas in the collection and casts other paintings and artists into the shade. If the collecting of work by Marie Cazin (1844 – 1924) showed ‘less discrimination’ than the collecting of Degas and Antoine Vollon (1833 – 1900), Pickvance does not suggest a reason for the number of works by Cazin in Hill’s collection.[14] The collection is not comprehended as a whole in the account. It is picked at, and choice pieces considered. As such, the article does not seem credible as a reflection on Hill. Pickvance paints Hill as an oddity and untypical as a collector of mainstream Victorian taste. This image of Hill has filtered in to the general understanding of this collector of Degas, further substantiated by positioning him as a provincial collector from Brighton. For example, Pickvance writes that Hill’s ‘first purchases were made in the 1860s when he settled at 53 Marine Parade, after serving as Quartermaster in the 1st Sussex Rifle Volunteers’.[15] This account of Hill appears in later literature where he is mentioned. Sylvie Patry in 2015 also refers to Hill as a Quartermaster in the 1st Sussex Rifle Volunteers.[16]  Although in part this detail is technically correct, it does not present an accurate picture of Hill’s career, as there is no evidence that Hill actively served in the army as a soldier.[17] Hook, who positions Hill as an outsider, further extrapolates the image of Hill as an untypical Victorian Collector. He describes Hill as ‘a retired soldier in Brighton’[18] and suggests that ‘perhaps a pattern of outsiderhood is emerging: Hill the Brighton provincial, Lane the Irishman, the Davies sisters who are not only mere women but also from Wales. None of them belongs to the London-centric mainstream of English society.’[19]

This romantic notion does not bear close scrutiny. Hugh Lane was a successful dealer of Old Masters, living and working in London. Lane was born in Ireland, but ‘soon afterwards, the family returned to Bath.’[20] Lane only affiliated himself with his Irish identity later in life. Hill was not a retired Soldier (although he did join the Rifle Volunteers when he retired), but a successful Military Tailor working from 3 Old Bond Street, London. This put Hill, not outside, but at the heart of business for both his tailoring profession and the art world in London at the time. Whether or not his opinions and attitude fit the ‘provincial’ image, is something that can only be determined through more information about his life and work. What the study of Lane and Hill has in common is the lack of an easily accessible body of archival material, which would enable a more thorough picture to be drawn. 

Writing in 2000, Robert O’Byrne prefaces his biography of Lane by considering why ‘in every book written on the Irish cultural renaissance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [Lane] is a peripheral character, not a central player’.[21] This O’Byrne perceives as being for two reasons. The first is that there is no tangible creative output that one can ascribe to Lane. The second is that the lack of available source material explains why little is written. The legacy of Captain Henry Hill has suffered a similar fate. Where there is a wealth of documented evidence and a tangible legacy, such as the collections in the V&A of Ionides and Sheepshanks, it is easier to gather illuminating material around which a body of writing can develop. Where source material is scarce, such as in the case of Captain Henry Hill, it is easy for myth and presumption to prevail.

Pickvance describes Hill as showing ‘remarkable vigour and taste for a man who began seriously collecting after his sixtieth year, but he was alone of his age and generation in coming to terms with some of the most avant-garde French painting of the period.’[22] Committee minutes provide evidence that there were reasons and opportunities, which explain the circumstances of Hill’s collection. Hill’s position as Chairman of the Fine Art Sub Committee of the Brighton Art Gallery brought him into contact with many artists such as Phil Morris (1836 – 1902), and developed his network of associates including the Society of French Artists. As Hill established annual loan and sale exhibitions for the Art Gallery, his opportunities for seeing new art and meeting artists increased. His work on the board of the Brighton School of Science and Art cemented his connections with Royal Academicians who were not only friends but also members of these institutions. As a retired merchant, his personal finances were assured and he was able, without any children, to focus his attentions on his personal collection and broad range of philanthropic activities.

The evidence shows that far from acting alone, Captain Henry Hill applied his pioneering spirit in a practical way as an influencer in a network of associates and with an agenda of education and enablement for artists and the people of Brighton. He was very much in a group of people and one obituary account suggests that Hill took his lead and guidance in the development of his collection from others, most likely artists.[23] Whilst it is true that his early collecting of Impressionists may have been pioneering, it is also true that he actively promoted an appreciation of foreign art more generally, using his position in Brighton to help his cause.  It is all too easy to imagine and question Hill’s reasoning or impulse for buying Impressionist work. As Hook wonders, ‘Was he just wandering down Bond Street after a good lunch with a spare half hour to fill? Was his first encounter with these strange new painters an apocalyptic experience?’[24] A close look at available archive materials suggests a more plausible alternative: that he was developing his collection on the recommendations of his networks of artist friends. These fall into two main categories: that of Royal Academicians who were in the social network of Frank Holl, and many of whom worked for The Graphic, and a network of foreign artists based around Dieppe, Paris and Sussex/London during the 1870s. An anonymous friend wrote of Hill that, ‘he had the sagacity to get the aid of experienced artists to guide him, for as he naively remarked, “It is little use buying merely what I like, but I want to have what I ought to like, and which, when I know something of art, I shall find will be worth my liking.”’[25] This provides a suggestion on which a hypothesis about the circumstances of the formation of the collection can be developed.

In From Manet to Manhattan, Watson correctly identifies Hill as a tailor. He quotes Anne Distel who describes Henry Hill as a Brighton tailor who bought seven Degas paintings, including L’Absinthe, and that ‘Constantine Ionides and the painter Walter Sickert also fell for the same artist.’[26] This is indeed true. Sickert bought A Rehearsal by Degas at the Christie’s sale of the Hill Collection. This painting was later sold to H. O. Havermeyer and is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Patry writes about Hill’s collecting as a progression, starting with early-nineteenth century English artists and culminating in Degas and Monet. What this summary does not indicate are the social influences from artists on Hill’s growing understanding of the arts. The social aspect suggests less of a progression than a diversification of Hill’s collection, due to the availability and familiarity of French art and artists during the 1870s. She describes Hill as liking ‘Naturalist subjects characterized by rather sentimental socialism’.[27] This rather simplistic assessment of Hill’s taste sits rather awkwardly with some of the paintings in his collection. The collection and Hill’s taste cannot be summarized so easily.

The Impressionists in London catalogue provides glimpses of the artists collected by Hill, in London, at the time when Hill was buying their works. A letter from Pissarro places Daubigny and Bonvin in London: ‘in 1870 I found myself in London with Monet, and we met Daubigny and Bonvin. Monet and I were very enthusiastic over the London landscapes […]’[28] The Franco-Prussian war brought many French painters to the UK, and gave British collectors access to this new French art, but also dealers from the continent such as Durand-Ruel. He exhibited the French Barbizon School painters that Hill was collecting, such as Corot, Millet, Rousseau, Dupré and Daubigny, as well as Impressionist paintings. Through ‘the agency of Durand-Ruel two works by each artist [Monet and Pissarro] were included in the French section of the International Exhibition of Fine Arts at South Kensington, which opened in 1871.’[29]

Anna Gruetzner Robins and Richard Thomson in Degas Sickert Lautrec: London and Paris, 1870 – 1910 present a far more considered and researched biography of Hill than any other to date.[30] It places Hill as a Quartermaster in the 1st Sussex Rifle Volunteers, but identifies that he made his money in the clothing (and bedding) market for the army. Gruetzner Robins and Thomson reference circumstantial evidence that Degas did travel to Brighton and possibly meet Hill, through Walter Sickert’s recollections of Degas in his obituary.[31]

They also reference Julian Treuherz, who in turn cites A. M. Reynolds, linking Hill to the social realist painters. He writes that:

Hill had an important group of canvases – including his own self portrait – by Frank Holl, who had emerged in the early 1870s at the Royal Academy as a major, and moving, painter of modern urban impoverishment and distress. Hill may have purchased these out of sympathy for Holl’s subjects, although family loyalty also came into play, as Holl’s sister was married to Hill’s brother.[32]

It seems that Hill did, as suggested by Pickvance, become an active patron of British painters, but perhaps that his patronage was not limited to British painters. Pickvance writes that ‘Cazin [Jean-Charles Cazin (1841 – 1901)] and his artist-wife also crossed the Channel and lived for several years in Sussex. Mme Cazin’s dark, near monochromatic landscapes dominated Hill’s collection […] After this glut, it is the more surprising to find the names of Monet and Degas.’[33] Understanding more about Hill’s collecting process makes it less surprising that Monet, Degas and Cazin are names in a collection together. They belonged to a group of artist friends including Whistler, Fantin-Latour, Otto Scholderer and Jules Dalou amongst others. These artists were linked through art schools, cafés, time spent in Dieppe (where some were friends with Oswald Sickert, Walter Richard Sickert’s father) and in England, in London and in Sussex during the Franco-Prussian War. Earlier in his article, Pickvance recognises in Hill the role of Patron of ‘British artists’.[34] This research suggests that Pickvance’s account of Hill’s patronage of artists is limited. It is true that he was a patron to British artists such as Frank Holl, Phil Morris, Paul Falconer Poole and others. The pictures in the collection show that he was also an active patron of artists from his continental circle of artist friends and not just Degas.

Pickvance identifies Hill as the ‘most remarkable, progressive and untypical figure’ amongst a group of collectors in Brighton including Ionides.[35] They were not in Brighton as a group. Ionides moved to Brighton after Hill’s death. Until then he had been living in London and, as a collector, moving in artistic circles, which included the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. These were in different circles from Hill, although there are some similarities between the two collectors in terms of artists that they both collected and knew. When Ionides moved to Brighton, he seems to have taken up the mantle of influencer and patron of the arts in the town, as the 1884 Brighton Loan exhibition shows.[36] Rather than consider which of these two collectors was the most remarkable, it is a more fruitful question to consider how they influenced each other, what interests they shared as well as the reasons why Ionides is remembered and Hill, less so.

Footnotes for Chapter 1:

[12] Pickvance, Henry Hill.

[13] Pickvance, Henry Hill, p. 791.

[14] Hill’s collection contained over 80 paintings, drawings and watercolours by Marie Cazin.

[15] Pickvance, Henry Hill, p. 789.

[16] Sylvie Patry, Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market, (London: Yale University Press, National Gallery, 2015).

[17] The 1881 census lists Hill as Captain Rifle Volunteers Funded Proprt. The Volunteers, created in 1859 were a citizen army, eventually becoming the Territorial Army in 1908.

[18] Philip Hook, The Ultimate Trophy: How Impressionist Painting Conquered the World (London: Prestel, 2009), p. 135.

[19] Hook, The Ultimate Trophy, p. 139.

[20] Robert O’Byrne, Hugh Lane 1875 – 1915 (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2000), p. 4.

[21] O’Byrne, Hugh Lane, preface, p. vii.

[22] Pickvance, Henry Hill, p. 791.

[23] Report: Funeral of the late Mr. Henry Hill The Western Times (Exeter, England) Thursday April 13 1882; p. 3; Issue 9973.

[24] Hook, The Ultimate Trophy, p. 124.                         

[25] Report: ‘Funeral of the late Mr. Henry Hill’, The Western Times (Exeter, England) Thursday April 13 1882; p. 3; Issue 9973.

[26] Peter Watson, From Manet to Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market, (London: Vintage, 1993), p. 100.

[27] Patry, Inventing Impressionism.

[28] The Impressionists in London, The Arts Council, (London and Bradford: Lund Humphries, 1973), p.14.

[29] The Impressionists in London, p. 13 and p. 35.

[30] Gruetzner Robins and Thomson Degas, Sickert and Toulouse- Lautrec London and Paris 1870-1910, (London: Tate, 2005). 

[31] Gruetzner Robins and Thomson, Degas Sickert and Toulouse- Lautrec, p. 26.                           

[32] Gruetzner Robins and Thomson, Degas Sickert and Toulouse- Lautrec, p. 25.

[33] Pickvance, Henry Hill p. 791.

[34] Pickvance, Henry Hill p. 790.

[35] Pickvance, Henry Hill p. 789.

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