Adrian Hill

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Adrian Keith Graham Hill (24 March 1895 – 1977) was a British artist, author, art therapist, educator and broadcaster. He wrote many books about painting and drawing, and in the 1950s and early 1960s presented a BBC children's television programme called Sketch Club.[1]

Life and work[edit]

Hill was born in Charlton, London, and educated at Dulwich College. He went on to study at St. John's Wood School of Art and the Royal College of Art. From 1917-1919 during World War 1, he was an Official War Artist on the Western Front [2][3] (his paintings and sketches from the front-line can be seen at the Imperial War Museum, London).[4] Adrian Hill combined his drawing abilities with his work in a Scouting and Sniping Section of the Honourable Artillery Company; He recalled a typical patrol into no man's land:

"I advanced in short rushes, mostly on my hands and knees with my sketching kit dangling round my neck. As I slowly approached, the wood gradually took a more definite shape, and as I crept nearer I saw that what was hidden from our own line, now revealed itself as a cunningly contrived observation post in one of the battered trees."[5]

On returning to civilian life, Hill painted professionally, and also taught at the Hornsey School of Art,[6] and the Westminster School of Art. His own work combined elements of impressionism and surrealism as well as more conventional representations, and was widely displayed at major art galleries during his lifetime, both in Britain and abroad.

In 1938, while convalescing from tuberculosis at the King Edward VII Sanatorium in Midhurst, he passed the time by drawing nearby objects from his hospital bed, and found the process helpful in aiding his own recovery. In 1939, occupational therapy was introduced to the sanitorium for the first time and Hill was invited to teach drawing and painting to other patients - at first to injured soldiers returning from the war, and then to general civilian patients.[2] Hill found that the practice of Art seemed to help to take the patient's mind off their illness or injuries and to release their mental distress.[2]

Hill believed that art appreciation also aided recovery from illness and was involved, with the British Red Cross Society, in setting up a scheme whereby reproductions of famous artists' works were lent to hospital wards all over the country - speakers were also engaged - including Hill himself - to talk to patients about art. By 1950 this picture-lending scheme had spread to nearly 200 hospitals, and there was a waiting list.

The artist Edward Adamson joined the program in 1946 as it was extended to the long-stay mental asylums, and started classes at Netherne Hospital in Surrey. Adamson continued at Netherne for 35 years, and was both a major influence on the British development of art therapy for people with major mental disorder, and also the creator of the Adamson Collection.[2][7] The Adamson Collection of about 6000 drawings, paintings, ceramics and sculptures by people compelled to live at Netherne was at Lambeth Hospital in South London between 1997 and 2012, and is currently almost all re-located to the Wellcome Library in anticipation of a securer future in several international institutions.

Hill worked tirelessly to promote art therapy, eventually becoming president of the British Association of Art Therapists (founded in 1964), though he found himself at odds with its increasingly psychoanalytical orientation.[2][8]

Ideas about art therapy[edit]

Hill apparently coined the term "art therapy" in 1942, and in 1945 published his ideas in the book Art Versus Illness. Hill thought that when the patient's physical resistance was at its lowest this somehow rendered the "animal ego" quiescent and allowed the creative powers of the "spiritual essence" to come through in works of art. On recovery, these creative powers would tend to wane back to the "pictorial commonplace."[9] He recognised that war was not only physically destructive but also damaged "minds, bodies and hopes" and that the need for psychological healing was even more important than mere physical repair of "property and estate."[2] He believed that the practice of art, "in sickness and in health," could turn society away from war by making artistic creativity more appreciated. He saw art therapy as becoming an integral part of the National Health Service.[9]


Hill has paintings in the collection of a several British institutions including Leicester, Derby Art Gallery and Bradford Museum.[10]

Books by Adrian Hill (selected)[edit]

  • Art versus illness ( G. Allen and Unwin, 1945)
  • Painting out illness (Williams & Norgate, 1951)
  • A Book of Trees (Faber and Faber, 1951)
  • Sketching and Painting indoors (Blandford,1961)
  • Drawing and Painting Plants and Flowers (Blandford, 1965)
  • How to draw (MacMillan, 1969)
  • Adrian Hill's Watercolour painting for beginners (Cassells, 1994)
  • Adrian Hill's Oil painting for beginners (Cassells, 1994)
  • Beginners Book of Anatomy (Dover, 2007)
  • Drawing and painting trees (Dover, 2008)


  1. ^ Sketch Club (
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hogan, pp132 ff.
  3. ^ A War of the Imagination': The Experience of British Artists in Two World Wars (UAE, Bristol)
  4. ^ Biog (
  5. ^ Paul Gough. ‘A Terrible Beauty’: British Artists in the First World War (Sansom and Company, 2010) pp. 42-61.
  6. ^ Now part of Middlesex University
  7. ^ O'Flynn, D. (2011). 'Art as Healing: Edward Adamson'. Raw Vision, 72, Spring 2011, p46-53.
  8. ^ British Association of Art Therapists
  9. ^ a b See Waller, p45 ff.
  10. ^ Adrian Hill, BBC, accessed August 2011

Further reading[edit]

  • Hogan, Susan. Healing arts: the history of art therapy (Jessica Kingsley, 2001), pp132 ff.
  • Waller, Diane. Becoming a profession: the history of art therapy in Britain, 1940-82 (Routledge, 1991), pp45 ff.

External links[edit]