Tuesday 27 August 2013

Derek Hill, His House

Imagine a brick red Georgian house, ringed by dripping greenery, set in a sodden valley under a rainwashed Donegal sky.  Imagine walking into the front hall, walls the blue of billiard cue chalk (walls covered, in fact, with billiard cue chalk) and paintings as far as the eye can see: Augustus John, Jack Yeats, Louis LeBrocquy, Oskar Kokoschka.  Welcome to the home of Derek Hill, English portrait painter, Irish landscape painter, founder of the 'Tory School' (yes, that Tory), resident of Churchill, Co. Donegal.

Derek Hill in a series of vignettes:

Hill's friend Henry McIlhenny (of the Tabasco McIlhennies), connoisseur, philanthropist, who bought nearby Glenveagh Castle and later left it to the Irish State, didn't care for Hill's style of decorating.  When asked his opinion of a Tiffany lamp in the dining room, McIlhenny sniffed, 'it's vulgar. But it goes with the rest of the house.'

Hill painted the great and good and many of them came to Donegal for their sittings.  One visitor was Greta Garbo, who graced the tapestry chair by the fire in the sitting room with her presence.  She had a perfect profile, but for some reason Hill never painted her.

He did paint Yehudi Menuhin and it's said that Menuhin treated the people of Gartan to a performance.  The legend goes that Hill's housekeeper Gracie was asked by one of the locals who the grand fiddler was.  She wasn't exactly sure of the name, but Hiúdí McMenamin sounded about right.

The pipes in the kitchen are painted in different primary colours. On a shelf of the red dresser is a ceramic platter designed by Picasso.  There's also a portrait of Gracie, by Hill, hanging above Gracie's chair.

His bathroom - still with his toothbrush in its holder - is papered in rose-spattered wallpaper and has a pile of Country Life magazines within handy reach of the bath.

He liked bright silk ties and embroidered slippers.

The walls, and more interestingly the ceiling of his study, are papered in original William Morris 'Blackthorn' wallpaper to create an illusion of lying under a woodland canopy.

The house is preserved more or less as it was left in 1981 when Hill donated it, its contents and his art collection to the Irish people.  Every surface is adorned, every wall covered; every room a story, a work of art in its own right.

Glebe House and Gallery, Churchill, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.

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