This is the beautiful doorway of Glebe House in Donegal, the former home of the painter Derek Hill.
Born in Hampshire, son of a wealthy sugar trader, Hill first worked as a theatre designer in Leningrad in the 1930s and later as an historian. His long association with Ireland began when he visited Glenveagh Castle, County Donegal to paint the portrait of the Irish-American art collector, Henry McIlhenny, whose grandfather had emigrated to the US from the nearby village of Milford, and who subsequently made a fortune from his patent gas meter.
Hill began to enjoy increased success as a portrait painter from the 1960s; his subjects including many notable composers, musicians, politicians and statesmen, such as broadcaster Gay Byrne, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and the Prince of Wales. He was also an enthusiastic art collector and traveller, with a wide range of friends such as Bryan Guinness and Sir Isaiah Berlin. Greta Garbo visited Hill in the 1970s, a visit which formed inspiration for Frank McGuinness’ 2010 play Greta Garbo Came to Donegal. In 1981, he donated his County Donegal home, St. Columb’s Rectory, near the village of Churchill (pronounced Church Hill), which he had owned since 1954, along with a considerable collection including work by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Georges Braque, Graham Sutherland and Jack Butler Yeats to the Irish State.
An exhibition of his work and personal art collection can be seen at the House and associated Glebe Gallery at Churchill, near Letterkenny. Another collection of his work is held at Mottisfont Abbey. Many of his landscapes portray scenes from Tory Island, where he had a painting hut for years, and started and then mentored the artists’ community there, teaching the local fishermen how to paint. This led on to the informal but busy “Tory School” of artists such as James Dixon and Anton Meehan, who found that they had the time to paint and their wild surroundings as a dramatic subject.
A Retrospective exhibition was arranged for and by him at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1998. In 1999, he was made an honorary Irish citizen by Irish President Mary McAleese. He died at a London Hospital on 30 July 2000, aged 83, and is buried in Hampshire in the South of England with his parents. Memorial services were held for him in Dublin at St Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as Saint James’ Church, Piccadilly, London, and his local Church of Ireland in Trentagh, Co. Donegal.
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