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In an upcoming exhibition, which runs from May 30-June 15, she has a chance to show her paintings with more independence than ever before.

For many years she lived in the shadow of her husband, the celebrated yet mercurial abstract painter Roger Hilton (1911-75).

The connection lingers in the literature surrounding her, as does her link to leading St Ives artists of the mid-20th century, such as Peter Lanyon, Bryan Wynter and Patrick Heron, whom she and her husband lived near and knew.

It was 1987 when dealer David Messum first came across Rose’s work and 1989 when he staged her first show in the gallery. But always the question, he says, was “how do we promote her when she has an already well-known husband with the same name? It’s been a wonderful challenge.”

Now Messum adds that the approaching exhibition could be a “seminal moment”.

He says: “None of the other members of that St Ives group are still living. But her reputation has grown over the years and she is now as respected as Roger.”

He was not keen on there being more than one ego in the family

Family life

Born in Kent, Rose studied at the Royal College of Art and was teaching and exhibiting in London when she met her husband. They travelled together, had two sons and she cared for him as his health failed. Although she had been a promising artist when they met, it was only after Roger’s death that Rose once again devoted herself to painting.

“He was not keen on there being more than one ego in the family,” Messum says.

The 1989 show turned out to be only the first of a dozen shows devoted to Rose at the Cork Street gallery. Tate St Ives also staged a retrospective of her work in 2008 and several of her pieces are included in The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, for its show In Relation: Nine Couples who Transformed Modern British Art, from June 16-September 18 (its curator, James Russell, has written the forward for the Messum’s catalogue).


‘Looking Towards the Lizard Peninsula’, oil on canvas 3ft x 4ft (91cm x 1.22m) – £24,500 at the Messum’s exhibition.

Rose’s works are not redolent of a difficult life. Balance of tone and bold geometry mark her compositions, which are often reflective of her admiration for French artists such as Bonnard, Braque and Matisse as well as her response to the Cornish light and landscape.

Nudes, interior studies and marine landscapes are among her subjects and, though the gallery stocks no work by her husband, it describes the “rhythmic abstraction of her late husband” appearing in her paintings “with a distinctly feminine energy”.

Recent works

Now in her 80s, Rose has moved out of her studio. Her recent works are smaller in scale than those created earlier. The Cork Street gallery offers a mix of new and old pieces.

For Messum, Rose’s art is appealing for its vibrancy and internal depth. The exhibition, he says, is likely to attract the “sort of people who collect mod Brit paintings, which is where the market is focused right now. She’s not the same as these other artists, but she was so much part of the society”.