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Robert Hills, 1769–1844, British

A Village Snow Scene

Watercolor and gouache over graphite with scraping out on thick, moderately textured, beige wove paper
Sheet: 12 5/8 x 16 15/16 inches (32 x 43.1 cm)

Signed and dated in black ink, lower left: "Hill 1819"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
animal art | baby | barn | baskets | blacksmiths | bonnet | cattle | children | cows | dog (animal) | donkeys | families | father | genre subject | hats | houses | men | mother | road | rural | snow | snowstorm | staff | storm | street | town | trees | village | winter | women
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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Although he lived and worked in London throughout his career, Hills specialized in scenes of rural life. He painted at least three versions of this view of village life in winter (others are in the Spooner Collection, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and in a private collection). The work is a combination of the real and the ideal, inspired in part by a seventeenth-century Flemish painting “A Barn in Winter” (Royal Collection, UK), then attributed to Peter Paul Rubens, which Hills saw when it was exhibited at the British Institution in 1819. At the same time, Hills was committed to studying figures from life. As his friend W. H. Pyne observed in his “Rustic Figures in Imitation of Chalk” (1817), “To become acquainted with the true rustic character, the student must go to nature, and view this class of people in their occupations” (p. ii). The figures in “A Village Snow Scene” portray these dual aspects as villagers seek shelter from a snowstorm in a barn. Hills delineates each person’s costume and the details of their setting, from the distinctive shape of a woman’s bonnet to the structural support of the barn that offers shelter. As Christiana Payne notes, village life continues during the storm: two blacksmiths work on the left and cattle are driven down the road (Payne, 1993, p. 155). Yet the figures remain types rather than individuals, their faces expressionless or obscured. The snow becomes the subject of the work: Hills render the bright white areas by leaving the paper untouched, a gesture that lends both texture and depth to the blankets of snow that cover the rooftops. He achieved the glimmering effect of falling snow by scraping out each snowflake.

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 280, no. 82, pl. 82, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Christiana Payne, Toil and plenty, images of the agricultural landscape in England, 1780-1890 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1993, p. 155, no. 62, ND1354.4 P39 1993 (YCBA)

Mahonri Sharp Young, The Mellon Drawings at the Morgan, Apollo, vo. 95, no. 122, April, 1972, p. 333, Pl. XI, N1 A54 + (YCBA) Another copy available in Vertical File - V 2330

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