Rose Hilton, née Phipps, was born at Leigh, near Tonbridge in Kent. She was the middle of seven children and her parents were devout Plymouth Brethren, one of the most extreme of the Protestant sects. Her artistic talents were recognised from an early age, but the only outlet for such creativity as far as her parents were concerned could be through teaching others, or as a hobby. Eager to escape the restrictions of home, Rose first persuaded her parents to allow her to study at the Beckenham School of Art from where, in 1953, she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London where her tutors would include Carel Weight (1908-1997).
After a serious bout of Tuberculosis, which forced her retreat to a sanatorium for a year, Rose returned to the Royal College in 1955 and went from strength to strength, winning the Life Drawing and Painting Prize as well as the Abbey Minor scholarship to Rome in 1958, where she spent a year. On her return she met and fell in love with the artist Roger Hilton. The couple married in 1965 and set up home together in a house on Botallack Moor, St Just, where they lived until Roger's early death in 1975.
Much of Rose's time during the period was taken up with family concerns and her painting took second place as a result, but she is keen to stress that it was a case of voluntary neglect. During this period she learned a great deal from her husband's artistic philosophy, painted sporadically, and developed an interest in Ingres and the work of the modern French School, particularly the intense colour used by Bonnard, Dufy, and Matisse.
Rose has steadily built a reputation as a major St Ives artist and has been represented exclusively by Messum's since 1989. At the recent retrospective held at Tate St Ives in January-May 2008, the paintings were chosen to reflect the increasingly abstract nature of Rose's work, though she rarely abandons figuration entirely. Though best known for her sensual nudes and lusciously coloured interiors, there were also a surprising number of landscapes on display, in which the leap towards abstraction is perhaps most apparent.
An in-depth study on Rose Hilton by Andrew Lambirth, art critic for the Spectator, is currently in preparation and will be published by Lund Humphries in June 2009.