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Unobtrusive Philanthropist

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Saturday 9 June 1951, The Sydney Morning Herald


Unobtrusive Philanthropist


WHEN I was shown the newly-published “Memorial Volume to Howard Hinton” (Angus and Robertson) and it was suggested that I write something about him I protested that, although I came in contact with him fairly often, there was really nothing I could say except that he was a man with an irrepressible passion for buying pictures and then giving them away.

I should have added, as an afterthought, that he was one of the gentlest, kindliest and noblest human beings who ever lived in this ruthless and snarling world. And I defy anyone to read Mr. C. B. Newling’s admirable story of this man’s career without being very deeply moved.

His life pursued its course in quiet channels but it was steadfastly directed to a single simple end-that of encouraging our national art by all the means in his power and with all the generosity of his being.

One is apt to resort to a triteness of phrase in any attempt to communicate the quiddity of a person in whose irreproachable existence there were no complications, no cross currents, no conflicts, but just a generous and clearly-defined purpose unpretentiously discharged.


MANY of us, hovering on the outskirts of the art world, were perhaps inclined to take Howard Hinton too much for granted. Although there was no hint of obsequiousness in his nature he was so self-effacing and so courteous that in an atmosphere where convictions and prejudices were sometimes hotly disputed, his personality made no overpowering impact. He was always genial, tolerant and predictable.

At art shows we would see his solitary figure moving slowly down the line, from the first exhibit to the last, going over every square inch of workmanship as though with a tooth comb.

So myopic was he that his thick glasses seemed to brush against the very surface of the canvas. I have little doubt that had he stepped back a foot or two the picture he was examining would have disappeared entirely from his sight.

Perhaps this aberration yielded some breathless enchantment denied to those of normal vision.

His taste in pictures was, to some of us, a bit of a puzzle.

By whatever unaccountable conviction it was dictated (I imply no criticism) he was rarely confused in his personal judgments. On being confronted with a painting he would, after conducting his own peculiar examination, either silently back away from it with a smile of incomprehension or turn quickly and say in tones clipped and unequivocal, “I like it.” And that was that.

I CANNOT remember where I first met Howard Hinton or where I saw him last. In the early days of our acquaintance he was collecting the water colours of J. J. Hilder. Two or three times he called at our cottage with freshly-acquired batches of them to show me.

It was always necessary that I kept a close watch on my tongue lest, by some too-spontaneous exclamation of approval, I should suddenly find myself in possession of one of his most highly prized trophies. He was a terror.

And sometimes, on bright Sabbath mornings, I would hear his voice coming from next-door as he sat talking, in the sunlit porch, with Harry J. Weston, whose work he admired.

And I shall always remember his beaming face at those annual dinners of the Society of Artists.

But despite the orderly apple pie simplicity in which Howard Hinton’s life was fashioned there was, indeed, a becoming air of mystery about him-the sort of mystery that enshrouds the affairs of so many solitary men of courtly demeanour and saintly disposition.

He was a bachelor. And somehow one tacitly assumed that he was far too chivalrous and considerate to bring himself to the point of asking a woman to share his destiny.

BUT what is most amazing and incredible to those who rejoice in their worldly possessions is that this man, who lived in a single room of a suburban guesthouse and possessed less than a dozen pictures of his own, gave away to various institutions works of art valued at nearly a quarter of a million pounds!

And yet the public knew little or nothing about him.

Howard Hinton never “donated” his gifts. They were transmitted-ever so gently, as though by sleight-of-hand. They passed from his ownership almost surreptitiously or were graciously confided to the keeping of others with his modest blessing.

And now, three years after his death, we have an imposing volume with a profusion of plates in colour and monochrome together with a complete catalogue of his benefactions to acquaint us with his bounty and by which he may be remembered. It was made possible by the friends who outlived him.

Because the compilers and publishers have given their services free it is available at a sum that is not prohibitive.

HOWARD HINTON was born in Surrey in 1867 and died at Cremorne, N.S.W., in January, 1948.

When he was twelve years old he and his brother, Leslie, chose to celebrate a school vacation by a visit to St. Petersburg. It was in this city that the virus of art first crept into the Hinton bloodstream. All future holidays were devoted to explorations of European galleries.

He came to Sydney in 1892 and took up duties as an office boy with W. and A. McArthur, the shipping firm in which he eventually became a partner.

During his early days in Australia he lived with friends at a camp on Balmoral Beach, where he made the acquaintance of artist campers, among whom were Julian Ashton, “Hop” of the “Bulletin,” Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts.

It was shortly before World War I that Howard Hinton betrayed the first symptoms of his approaching obsession-that of buying pictures and giving them to others.

He began in a small way by practising on his friends. Then he turned to bigger things.

From 1914 pictures started to trickle into the National Gallery, increasing to a steady flow until the day of his death.

BUT the Armidale Teachers’ College was his pet. Mr. Newling writes: “In a letter to me Hinton said that he wished to spread the appreciation of art throughout the State, and that he thought no better means could be found of doing this than by inspiring young teachers.”

In 1929, while he was touring the Continent, pictures from London arrived at the College in zinc-lined cases so that some of the walls are now lined with souvenirs of a complete tour through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain and Italy.

When he returned from abroad Hinton paid his first visit to the College, where one of the houses had already been named after him. He became immediately popular with the students, who regarded him as “a sort of demigod.”

From this period consignments of the works of Australian artists began to pour in-paintings by Streeton, Norman and Lionel Lindsay, Roberts, Lambert, Fullwood, Grüner, Heysen, and Sid Long. Norman Carter was commissioned to design a stained-glass window.

Nor was S. H. Smith House, the residence of the women students, neglected. “I suppose we had better knock up a century,” said Hinton looking at its empty walls. And in they came.

The College received altogether one thousand and twenty eight original works, one hundred and two coloured prints, and seven hundred art books.

On being asked why he gave so many pictures to the College Hinton said: “My object was to provide a complete collection illustrating the development of Australian art from eighteen eighty onwards, and my action in making the gift to the Armidale Teachers’ College was prompted by my great interest in Australian education and my desire that the Collection should be available in perpetuity for succeeding generations of students.”

Hinton bought generously and always with a liberal eye cast in the direction of artists who were struggling. He was the first to discern the qualities of J. J, Hilder. He was one of the early champions of the young Grüner. During the last Depression he increased rather than decreased his purchases.

NOR were those from whom he bought inappreciative. If Hinton encouraged artists, artists certainly encouraged Hinton. Arthur Streeton (who died worth infinitely more money than Hinton spent in the whole of his lifetime) wrote to him:

“Australia has so far had three outstanding collectors of art: Alfred Felton and Sir Baldwin Spencer, both of Melbourne, and yourself, of New South Wales and you, my dear friend, outstanding them and all others. I think that you, with your cultural gifts and your generosity, are like my old friend Peter Waite, of Adelaide-quietly and without advertisement-steadily accomplishing great benefits for the public, which, careless perhaps to-day, will yet appreciate your great public spirit; you belong to that rare few who benefit the art of the country and advance the cultural interests of the Commonwealth. These fine qualities should have been publicly and fully recognised years ago. Anyhow, you have the admiration and affection of the artists for the Hilders, Gruners, Lindsays and all other of your good works. We can only thank you for these great gifts.”


THERE has been much reference to the lack of public acclaim for Howard Hinton. He was made a trustee of the National Gallery, he was awarded the O.B.E., and he accepted the Annual Medal of The Society of Artists; but I rather suspect that he mistrusted the blatant sounds of trumpet and cymbal. However, this memorial volume will do much to enlighten those to whom he is little known.

Whatever his private feelings may have been we can only guess at. I only know it would go ill with any Australian who admitted ignorance of his name within the hearing of a student of the Armidale Teachers’ College.

Written by macalba

March 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm

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