A highly fluent watercolourist, Rowland Hilder became synonymous with the Kent countryside that he painted for much of his life. However, he was a wide-ranging painter and illustrator, who tackled cityscapes, marines and figure subjects with equal confidence and success. The son of British parents, Rowland Hilder was born on 28 June 1905 at Great Neck, Long Island, New York. He was first educated in Morristown, New Jersey. Following the return of his family to England in 1915, he lived in New Cross, South London, and attended Aske’s Hatcham School. In 1921, he entered the etching class of Goldsmiths’ College School of Art, but soon fell under the spell of E J Sullivan, an influential teacher of illustration.
He was also influenced by Muirhead Bone and Frank Brangwyn. However, he was most interested in becoming a marine painter, and so tried to follow the example of W L Wyllie, teaching himself the art of watercolour. Working as an illustrator from 1925, his status was boosted a decade later, in 1935, when he took the place of Sullivan at Goldsmiths’ College. In the same year, he established his reputation as a watercolour painter of British landscapes with his first solo show at the Fine Art Society. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and other London venues and, in 1938, was elected to the membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-Colours (RI). During the Second World War, he worked first as a camouflage officer and, later, as an artist in the Central Office of Information.
In the post-war period, Hilder devoted an increased amount of time to painting. He set up the Heron Press to market his prints and Christmas cards, and by 1951 ‘was the most popular landscape artist of the time’ (Alan Horne, The Dictionary of 20th Century British Illustrators, Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1994, page 247). He worked with his wife, Edith, on the Shell Guide to the Flowers of the Countryside (1955), and produced paintings for the Shell Guide to Kent (1958), the first in the series of volumes devoted to counties. In 1960 the printing and publishing company of Royle took over the stock of the Heron Press and acted as distributor, while Hilder continued to produce many paintings for reproduction.
In 1963, Royle took over the Heron Press completely, and Hilder became its consultant art adviser. His career as a commercial illustrator virtually ended and ‘he devoted his time to painting for painting’s sake; the fact that much of his work was reproduced [being] almost incidental’ (Horne, 1994: 247). He was elected as President of the RI in 1964 and published a number of manuals, including Starting with Watercolour (1966) and Painting Landscapes in Watercolour (1983). In 1986, he was awarded the OBE. He lived at Blackheath in London for many years and died at Greenwich on 21 April 1993. He had a son, Anthony, and a daughter, Mary.
Further reading: John Lewis, Rowland Hilder: Painter of the English Landscape, Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1988