Hilder was born in Toowoomba Queensland on 23 July 1881. After completing schooling he was employed by the Bank of New South Wales which moved him to a number of locations including Bega in 1902 where he is believed to have contracted tuberculosis. In 1904 he was relocated to Sydney where he sold his first watercolour. In 1906 he enrolled in the art school of Julian Ashton. Julian Ashton said of him:
“Hilder was very shy and reserved. He used to come to my classes after four o’clock when the bank in which he worked was closed. He had a natural instinct for drawing and a sense of beautiful colour values. In nearly all of his work he conveys the impression of having attempted to express
some individual form of beauty both in design and colour.”
In 1908 Hilder was sent to work in Young after continued time from work because of consumption. In Young at the same time was Phyllis Amy Meadmore.
Phyllis was the daughter of Clement and Amy Meadmore of ‘St Elmo’ 143 Copeland Road East Beecroft. Her father was a commercial traveller. Mr Meadmore was actively involved in the community through participating in a large number of musicals (especially Gilbert & Sullivan) and dramatic works held in the School of Arts. As a consequence of family connections, on her mother’s side, Phyllis went to stay with the Allen family of Young while she trained as a nurse at Young Hospital.
While living in Young, both Phyllis and Hilder attended sketching classes together and fell in love. Not only did they decide to marry but Phyllis also convinced Hilder to resign from the Bank to concentrate upon his art. He resigned and they were wed in April 1909.
In 1909 Hilder rented a house in Epping, which Phyllis described as:
“I shall never forget that first real homecoming. He had been telling me what a horrid little place it was, and I was rather relieved when I saw it. He had covered the floors of the three rooms and set out the china on the dresser and put a few things about making the place look quite homely. And my mother was there with the table set for lunch…….For a time all went well and we had enough to live on in a very simple way and Jesse improved in health. About the end of 1910 we got a trap and pony and this made life much pleasanter for us all. The pony was slow and Jesse used to say that he had ample time to look about for landscapes as we drove gently along the rough roads. We found many quaint little by-roads with their charming trees and old fences which would have been too far from home without the pony.
Often Jesse came to me in the early morning and asked me to pack up some lunch and by nine we were off for the day; at other times we set out after a hasty supper to have a long evening in the moonlight.
In 1911 we got very low in money and there was quite a lull in the sale of paintings. In March we only had L1 18s 4d., owed a month’s housekeeping bills, and on the 27th our second son was born. I had been so despondent for a few months that my mind had been constantly dwelling on death as an escape.
Could not face the acknowledgment that out marriage was a failure, and having to go back to my parents with the babies. They did not like Jesse, and I thought they had no sympathy for us. As to Jesse, he said he could only go to a sanatorium and wait to die, trying meanwhile to sell a picture sometimes and give me a little money…a terrible outlook for us all. However, on the 3rd April came the usual account from [the selling agent] and he had done so well that we paid up all round and could hold up our heads again and face the future bravely. Things went well; the work sold and we took a cottage we thought nicer at Ryde, but, finding it damp, soon had to leave for one near Hornsby.”
The house in Hornsby was called Inglewood and its present address is 384 Pacific Highway
While Phyllis talks of a perceived lack of support from her family, it is noted that her first son was called after her brother and at least two paintings by Hilder are of his father-in-law in his garden at Beecroft. Phyllis’s brother Arthur Noel Meadmore was one of the first young men to enlist in the Great War and died from pneumonia in January 1915 while still in Egypt.
As Hilder’s health deteriorated Phyllis recorded:
“In January 1916 I asked Mother to take the children to her home in Beecroft, sending them to a kindergarten there. We had them home from Friday till Sunday evening, and had the other days quiet for Jesse who was painting when he was well enough to be up.”
Hilder died on 10 April 1916 aged thirty five years.
Following his death a memorial exhibition was held of 250 of his works and Sydney Ure Smith and Bertram Stevens produced a booklet that served as both a memorial and catalogue. Proceeds of the sale of the booklet were donated to Phyllis. The success of this booklet led Sydney Ure Smith to commence art publishing. Ure Smith, with Harry Julius and Bertram Stevens went on to launch Art in Australia.
Hilder’s work was influenced by that of the later mystic and poetic landscapes of Camille Corot (1796-1875) and more recently has been aligned with the landscapes of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903).
Of Hilder’s two sons Vernon Arthur (‘Bim’) Hilder (1909-1990) worked as a carpenter with Walter and Marion Burley Griffin at Castlecrag and went on to become a painter and sculptor. Brett Hilder (1911-1981) became a master mariner before also becoming a painter.
One of Phyllis’s relatives was Clement Lyon Meadmore (1929-2005) the sculptor whose mother was Mary Agnes Ludlow Meadmore – described as a Scotswoman whose uncle was JJ Hilder.
Meadmore was born and grew up in Melbourne travelling to Sydney in 1960 and New York in 1963. He remained in, and did most of his work in the United States.
Following Hilder’s death Phyllis and the two boys went to Melbourne where she kept house for one of her aunts. She then returned to Sydney where she completed her nurse training and eventually went to live at ‘Wildflower’ Castlecrag – a home designed and built for her in 1928 by her son Bim. After being widowed for almost thirty years she re-married Ernest Browning Kingsnorth. She died in 1951.
Phyllis’ father, Clement enlisted in the medical corps in 1917.
[i] Also see biographical articles by S Clifford-Smith on J J Hilder and B Hilder in
Dictionary of Australian Artists on Line www.daao.org.au accessed 23 April 2010.
[viii] www.meadmore.com accessed 30 April 2010