Remembering the artist Derek Hill

Englishman was granted honorary Irish citizenship by President Mary McAleese

Derek Hill may not be a household name but he is one of a select few Englishmen granted honorary Irish citizenship. President Mary McAleese conferred the honour on him in 1999. A year later Hill died on July 30th, 2000, aged 83.

Born in 1916, he was a well-known artist in the second half of the 20th century mainly of landscapes and portraits. After working for the British Council in Rome, he moved to Ireland in 1953 after visiting Donegal, where he was commissioned to paint the portrait of Henry McIlhenny, a wealthy Irish-American who owned Glenveagh Castle.

Hill settled in Co Donegal, where he bought a former rectory, Glebe House, at Churchill near what is now Glenveagh National Park.

He spent months every year on Tory Island off the Donegal coast using a hut as his studio and encouraging local artists who became known as the "Tory School".

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Hill was commissioned to paint portraits of several Irish public figures including Garret FitzGerald, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Gay Byrne and Tony O’Reilly.

His sitters in England included Prince Charles, Edward Heath, John Betjeman and Sir Noël Coward, the famous playwright and songwriter best-known for plays including Private Lives, Hay Fever' and Blithe Spirit, and songs including Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Coward bought some of the artist’s paintings as well as commissioning portraits of himself by Hill. When he painted Coward in Switzerland, Coward remarked to Hill: “Derek dear, remember I have painted my own face in the theatre over the last 50 years, so I know it very, very much better than you ever will.”

Earlier in March this year Christie's in London auctioned a selection of paintings that were formerly in the private collection of Coward, including paintings by Hill.

A Portrait of Noël Coward by Hill sold for £25,000, over four times its top estimate of 4,000-£6,000.

Paintings by Hill can be seen in Sligo’s “Model” art gallery and in Glebe House and Gallery in Churchill, near Letterkenny, which the artist gifted to the Irish State.

For opening times and further details re Glebe House and Gallery see heritageireland.ie