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Jesse Jewhurst Hilder (1881–1916)

by Bernard Smith

This article was published:

Jesse Jewhurst Hilder (1881-1916) artist, was born on 23 July 1881 at Toowoomba, Queensland, fourth son and eighth child of Henry Hilder, a Sussex-born engine driver, and his Indian-born wife Elizabeth, née Hall. His father had reached Queensland with his family in the Gauntlet in 1875; all were musical. Jesse attended the Toowoomba North State School until in 1890 the family moved to Brisbane, when he went to Fortitude Valley State School and to Brisbane Grammar School on a three-year scholarship. He had already developed a keen interest in drawing and painting, encouraged by the architect T. H. Addison and artist Walter Jenner.

In 1898 Hilder entered the Brisbane branch of the Bank of New South Wales; he was transferred to Goulburn, New South Wales, in February 1901 and to Bega in June 1902. A shy lad, he found at Bega a congenial circle of friends, and made his first sales; here the first signs of his pulmonary illness appeared.

Transferred to the Waverley branch in April 1904, Hilder contacted Dr Moffit who encouraged him in the use of colour. He began to frequent the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, particularly admiring the work of (Sir) Arthur Streeton, Sydney Long and J. W. Tristram. At Waverley he met Fred Leist who advised him to show some of his water-colours to Julian Rossi Ashton, who was impressed. Hilder began to study at Ashton's late afternoon classes, giving the name of 'Joyce' for fear that the bank would disapprove of his artistic interests; similarly, he signed as 'Anthony Hood' on some of his paintings about 1905. Through Ashton's Hilder made a few friends who eventually helped to establish his reputation: Sydney Ure Smith, Bertram Stevens and Harry Julius. However Hilder was proud and touchy; his friendships were troubled by his extreme sensitivity.

In March 1906 he moved to head office at Sydney, then to the William Street branch; he became very ill, learning for the first time of his tuberculosis. The remainder of Hilder's life was a search for a dry, congenial climate. He first exhibited at the Society of Artists, Sydney, in 1907 where his work made quite a sensation; Streeton hailed him as a genius. Illness dogged Hilder and, on leave, he stayed for a time with a school teacher named McCoy, of Dumaresq, near Armidale. He slept in a tent and spent much of the day in the open, reading, walking, sketching. He quarrelled with McCoy, then entered the Queen Victoria Home for Consumptives at Wentworth Falls. Somewhat restored to health, he was transferred to Young, and sent fourteen water-colours to the Society of Artists' exhibition (1908). All were sold.

In Sydney on 28 April 1909 he married Phyllis Meadmore. Encouraged by her, and with nine months salary, he began life as a full-time professional artist. They rented a house at Lawson in the Blue Mountains, but in September moved to Parramatta, where their first son was born. The 1909 Society of Artists' exhibition brought disappointment: only five paintings sold. The prospect was desperate, but a Sydney dealer A. W. Albers took charge of his unsold paintings and by the end of the year sales totalled £200. Hilder bought himself a pony and trap to extend his range of sketching sites. From mid-1911 his work began to sell steadily and increase in value. The family moved to Ryde, where they lived until July 1912, then to Inglewood, near Hornsby. Between increasing bouts of illness Hilder continued to paint and made many sketching trips: to Valley Heights (1911), Berowra and Lake Macquarie (1913), and Dora Creek (1915). In the previous year W. H. Gill arranged an exhibition for Hilder in Melbourne. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis at Inglewood on 10 April 1916 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife and two sons.

Hilder's work is small in scale but deep in feeling. It may be compared with the poems of his contemporary John Shaw Neilson in its purity and transparence. He gave to the subjects and themes of the public art of the Heidelberg School its purest, most subjective and most lyrical expression; his work is haunted by a pathos that, even in bright sunlight, covers all things seen and experienced, with a tremulous vision of mortality. In 1916 Ure Smith published a tribute, J. J. Hilder Watercolourist, his first success in colour printing; the proceeds were given to Mrs Hilder.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Ure Smith and Stevens (ed), The Art of J. J. Hilder (Syd, 1918)
  • B. Hilder (ed), The Heritage of J. J. Hilder (Syd, 1966)
  • Queensland Art Gallery, Jesse Jewhurst Hilder: Anniversary Exhibition (Brisb, 1966).

Citation details

Bernard Smith, 'Hilder, Jesse Jewhurst (1881–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hood, Anthony

23 July, 1881
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia


10 April, 1916 (aged 34)
Hornsby, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.