J.J. HILDER, Central Station, Brisbane Enlarge 1 /1


Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia 1881 – Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia 1916

Central Station, Brisbane 1908 Place made: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, paper; watercolour painting in watercolour Support: paper

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower right within image in watercolour, 'J. J. Hilder / 1908'. not titled.
Secondary Insc: no inscriptions.
Tertiary Insc: no inscriptions.
Dimensions: sheet 26.5 h x 20.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Tim Fairfax AC and Gina Fairfax Fund 2014 100 Works for 100 Years
Accession No: NGA 2014.870
  • Purchased by the National Gallery of Ausytralia, from Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 2014.

During his short life, praise for the work of Jessie Jewhurst Hilder was effusive. When taken by a black mood, Sydney Ure Smith would go to ‘see the Hilders’ until gradually ‘filled with peace’. Arthur Streeton called him a genius. Harry Julius recalled the deftness with which Hilder separated the lyrical from the commonplace, selecting the compositional elements of his paintings as carefully as a poet picks words. After the grand gestures of the Heidelberg School, Hilder’s diminutive but visionary work in watercolour was regarded as something altogether new.

Painted from the bell tower of Saint Andrews Church in 1908, Central Station, Brisbane sees Hilder shift from the high-key pastoral paintings of his youth to a complex arrangement of carefully modulated colour. Daubed in glittering swathes of blue, the painting threatens to dissolve. But the resolute form of the station, and the asymmetrical sweep of the street, asserts the scene as one observed not invented. Hilder’s great talent lay in his ability to express the ephemeral nature of the most concrete subjects. This aptitude was heightened by his ill-health, a condition under which normalities seemed significant and the shortness of life keenly realised.

Born in Toowoomba in 1881, Hilder’s gift as a painter was evident as a child but he forged a career in banking through financial necessity. Fearing the disdain of his employers he signed some of his work under the pseudonym ‘Anthony Hood’. With the encouragement of his wife Phyllis Meadmore and artist Julian Ashton, he finally devoted himself to painting in 1909. Central Station, Brisbane is the most significant work by Hilder to enter the national collection to date.

Elspeth Pitt Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings

in artonview, issue 79, Spring 2014