2083 – Derek Hill and the Holy Mountain

At the harbour of Vatopedi you may find a restored fountain and a kiosk, that were built in memory of Derek Hill, “who showed a genuine love for the monasteries of the Holy Mountain”, as is engraved in the memorial stone. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Friends of Mount Athos.

Here we see him on the left in the company of Sir Steven Runciman, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia and Graham Speake (Orthodox name: Gregory Palamas).

He has travelled to Athos 15 times. (Another source mentions: 25 times.) He took Bruce Chatwin there. As told in Nicholas Shakespeare’s article (Telegraph, 2010, August 16th) about Chatwin’s Journey to Mount Athos.

“Hill was a friend of the Abbot of Chilandari monastery, who could facilitate their permits. Finally, in May 1985, Hill agreed to accompany Chatwin. He told me: “I was slightly apprehensive because he was a great complainer. I thought he’d find the monks smelly or the beds hard or that the loos stank. But it was a revelation to him.”

Derek Hill (1916 – 2000) was considered to be the “last of the gentlemen painters” as stated in the Guardian’s obituary (2000, August 10th.). He was well known both for his portraits of famous people (artists, actors, politicians, royalty) as well of his landscape paintings.

He described himself as a loner. In the book by Gray Gowrie, Derek Hill, an appreciation (1987):

“I try to make it a rule to be alone several hours every day wherever I am. Certainly there are periods in the year when I want to be alone, as when I go to Tory Island or do one of my pilgrimages to Mount Athos.”

In my quest I found three of his paintings in connection to Athos. Two of waiting monks on Athonian piers. A very recognisable scene for pilgrims who have been on Athos; waiting for the ferry. Sometimes you can wait a long time on the pier. You don’t want to be late, when there’s only one boat. And if the weather is rough the boat can be late. The atmosphere of a long wait is very well caught. In addition I found one portrait of a monk. 

I expected to find many more paintings after 15 or 25 pilgrimages, especially of the landscape which he must have found extremely inspiring. He loved painting landscapes. And because he was fond of traveling, he made paintings of landscapes all over the world. Many paintings can be found from from his cabin on the isolated Tory Island, which is just off the coast of Donegal, Ireland. I couldn’t find any Athonian landscapes.

This painting is called Three Monks from Mount Athos.

The title of this oil painting is “Waiting for the early boat”.

The portrait of a Athonite monk.

From Bruce Arnold´s biography of Derek Hill:

“Hill was good with Prince Charles. Their friendship began after Hill did a portrait of the young Prince for Trinity College Cambridge following his graduation. He helped the Prince with his own paintings and introduced the Prince to the painters who he then invited to go on royal trips. So there was a good friendship.

Derek kept up with the Prince right to the end of this life and one of the last people to see him alive was Prince Charles.”

He did portrait the Prince of Wales twice. Here we have the Prince as a young man, nineteen years. Hill was an artistic guide and advisor for the Prince’s painting. Much later the Prince became the Royal Patron of the Friends of Mount Athos.

Hill, Derek; HRH Charles, Prince of Wales (b.1948), Honorary Fellow; Trinity College, University of Cambridge; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hrh-charles-prince-of-wales-b-1948-honorary-fellow-134722

Does anyone know of more Athonian artwork by Derek Hill? There is one sketch known of St. Basil’s Church, that belongs to Chilandariou, as posted by Herman on this weblog before. But I’m quite curious about other oil paintings.

To finish this blog I will show the monument for Derek Hill and the restored fountain.

the memorial stone

A fig tree is trying to survive the shadowy and damp circumstances in the fountain house. A cool place for meditation in the summertime.

Bas Kamps

Bas, I can add this painting from Derek Hill to your post:

Derek Hill: Sailing to Byzantium – 1976

The painting “Waiting for the early boat” is from 1980.

Wim, 6th December 2019

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