‘Pequod’ shows a small vessel, moored but bobbing up and down on an bright blue sea. Like many artists of his generation, Roger Hilton was drawn to Cornwall where he eventually settled in 1965. Marine forms including rocks, waves, boats and floating figures often appear in his works, which also reveal a debt to the paintings of Alfred Wallis (1855–1942), the gifted untrained Cornish artist.
In Hermann Melville’s 1851 novel ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Pequod’ was the name of Captain Ahab’s ship. The name was inspired by the Native North American Pequot Indians, a tribe who controlled the area around Mystic, Massachusetts, and who were decimated by Puritan militia in 1637. The name lends a sinister edge to Hilton’s painting. The boat’s black flag reminds us of a pirate’s skull-and-crossbones, a symbol of death. ‘Pequod’ was painted at a dark period of Hilton’s life when he was undergoing treatment for alcoholism. He once remarked that all art was ‘an attempt to exteriorise one’s sensations and feelings, to give them a form.’
Roger Hilton was born in Middlesex. He studied at the Slade School of Art during the early and mid 1930s and at the Académie Ranson in Paris. His first solo exhibition was held at the Bloomsbury Gallery in 1936. He joined the army in 1939 and was a prisoner of war until 1945. Around 1950, Hilton turned to abstract art, after seeing Mondrian’s work in Paris and Amsterdam. He visited Newlyn in Cornwall while teaching at the Central School of Art and Design in the mid 1950s and finally moved to Cornwall in 1965, joining the St Ives Group. A major retrospective was held at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 1993, followed by a drawing survey at Tate St Ives in 1997.
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