“A land pre-eminently to inspire a painter”: Tristram Hillier’s first visit to Portugal
in In and out of Bloomsbury
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Tristram Hillier made a distinctive and distinguished contribution to twentieth-century British art, moving from abstraction and surrealism to representational painting with elements of quasi-surrealism. His first visit to Portugal, in 1947, was of great importance. It arose out of a crisis in his private life: his Irish Protestant wife, Leda, had objected strongly to his recent return to the Roman Catholic Church and even threatened divorce proceedings. From a professional point of view, the visit was highly successful. The essay clarifies the context, dating, and itinerary of the visit, with full use made of the Hillier files in the Tate Gallery Archive and letters in the possession of the artist’s family. It gives special attention to scenes in the city of Viseu, presenting and discussing his paintings of Cathedral Square and the Church of the Misericordia and his very fine drawing, made en plein air, on which the Cathedral Square painting is based. The drawing, in private ownership since 1948, has not been published before. It and the painting executed months later in the artist’s studio in Somerset make a fascinating study in comparison and contrast.

In and out of Bloomsbury

Biographical essays on twentieth-century writers and artists

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