and philosophically, Jerome Hill was a humanist. He never stopped learning nor
did he ever stop sharing what he learned. Although he was apt to appear for dinner
in a pair of ancient corduroys and a well-worn tweed jacket, somehow one remembers
him as a princely man. Princely in fortune to be sure. But princely also in his
legendary generosity, in his searching, eclectic turn of mind and above all, in
his abiding devotion to the arts.
was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on March 2, 1905. As the grandson and namesake
of the successful railroad builder, James Jerome Hill, who hammered out the Great
Northern Railroad system in the late 1800's, young Jerome, along with his brothers
and his sister, were guaranteed a protected and economically secure childhood.
family's large town house was adorned with splendid examples of the art of the
day - Corot, Delacroix, Rousseau, the Barbizon School, etc. And Jerome's father,
Louis, was an enthusiastic amateur painter who was known to turn out rather better
than respectable examples of the Corot genre. For a child blessed with more than
his share of manual and mental dexterity it is not surprising that drawing and
painting became a major preoccupation throughout the whole of Jerome Hill's life.
he graduated from Yale University in 1927 with a baccalaureate in music, Hill
decided to delve further into the arcane mysteries of painting. He consumed and
was much influenced by the writings of Clive Bell and Roger Fry. From Yale he
took himself off to his beloved city of Rome, where he studied at the British
Academy during 1928. He then went to the Academie Scandinave in Paris, where,
until 1932, he was guided and coached by a galaxy of contemporary artists, among
whom were de Segonzac, Dufresne, Gromaire, Marquet and Friesz. It was here, undoubtedly,
that Hill began to develop the sharp, selective eye that would serve him so well
as a collector in later years.
the most remarkable fact about Jerome Hill is that he became proficient in not
one but in three demanding disciplines: music, painting and more importantly
for him, the latter-day art of the motion picture. A less perceptive, less talented
man, given similar circumstances, might easily have drifted off into a perfunctory
career as a nimble dilettante. But such a course was not his way. He was a prodigious
worker and a very serious one. Those who knew him would be hard put to recall
a single moment during his life when his seemingly demonic energies were not surging
into some project or other. Wherever he lived, a palette, a piano or a camera
was near at hand - not merely to tinker with, but to serve as instruments for
creative action. At times one wondered if he ever slept at all.
few highlights are characteristic. In 1968, Hill composed accompaniments for the
poems of the Countess Ophelia de Rouget, subsequently broadcast by the Swiss National
Radio. In May 1971, his compositions for harpsichord and chamber orchestra were
played in full concert at the Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Rome. The performance
was conducted by Miles Morgan, great-grandson of J.P. Morgan, and one local newspaper
headlined its review "Hill's Music Unabashedly Classical." In September
1975, the celebrated organist, Edouard Nies-Berger, who collaborated with Albert
Schweitzer on a new edition of Bach's music for the organ, played a transcription
of Hill's works at a memorial concert in Gunsbach in Alsace, honoring the 100th
anniversary of Schweitzer's birth.
paintings were widely appreciated. His canvases were exhibited in the Salon des
Tuileries and the Salon d'Automne in Paris at various intervals between 1929 and
1937. After the war, he had several one-man shows in both New York and Rome. In
America, his work is represented in the collections of the Minnesota Museum of
Art in St. Paul, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts as well as in many private
collections around the nation.
the world of the cinema, Hill's film biography "Grandma Moses" was nominated
for the Academy Award in 1950, and his feature length documentary "Albert
Schweitzer" won that same award in 1958. Many leaders in the field of avant-garde
film making considered him a formidable talent. In addition to the films named
above, he had produced, by the time he died in 1972, no less than ten others,
including a brilliant autobiographical study called "Film Portrait."
Here, all three of Jerome Hill's main proclivities came together; he painted the
animated sequences frame by frame, he stretched the optical potential of the camera
to new dimensions, and he wrote and scored the music for the sound track. A reviewer
for the New York Times called "Film Portrait" the "Charming Swan
Song of an Experimentalist."
all this suggests that Jerome Hill was a recluse, denying himself the usual pleasures
of life to labour in the solitude of one of his several retreats, no such conclusion
would be more mistaken. On the contrary, he was a witty, eloquent and warmly gregarious
man. He loved and knew a lot about good food and wine. He adored flowers, parlour
games and popular music. He was an exuberant skier, a fine swimmer and an agile
ball-room dancer with particular expertise in such exotic rhythms as "The
Lindy Hop." He had an astonishing memory for dates, places, songs and people.
He was fluent in French (which he claimed he spoke better than English), German
and Italian. He spoke and read Russian well enough to travel there without an
interpreter, and, for almost five years before he died, he studied Chinese.
form all this, Hill maintained what must be fairly called a monetary rescue service
for his less fortunate friends. Quietly, unobtrusively, often anonymously, he
helped purchase, or simply gave away houses, put newly-weds on their feet, found
jobs, paid legal fees, school tuitions, medical bills, even food bills. He put
money into plays, encouraged young artists by buying their works outright or supplying
them with direct support. He helped finance the Salzburg Seminar in 1948 and he
was the founding patron of Anthology Film Archives, a unique New York repository
for the study of avant-garde films from the earliest known experiments to the
latest contemporary efforts.
without doubt Jerome Hill's most important and imaginative philanthropic act came
in 1967 with the establishment of the Camargo Foundation which he endowed with
his art collection, his library and his land holdings in California and in France.
The Foundation, a New York charitable trust, provides fellowships for scholars
who wish to pursue further studies in various branches of French culture in France
- an opportunity Hill himself might have appreciated during his own student years.
physical site of the Camargo Foundation is located on Hill's former estate in
Cassis, France, an ancient Mediterranean fishing port about twenty kilometers
east of Marseilles. The main house on the property is called "La Batterie,"
because a young artillery officer named Napoleon Bonaparte once mounted his cannon
on the cliff to protect the approaches to Marseilles and the lovely crescent-shaped
harbour below. During the early thirties Hill made frequent sketching trips to
Cassis, finally succumbing to the magic of the place when he bought the estate
in 1939. As a Lieutenant of the U.S. Air Force in World War II, and a diligent
liaison officer with the reconstituted French Air Command, Hill had little time
to fret about the war-time condition of his treasured sanctuary. Finally, however,
he and a few sympathetic companions got leave to visit Cassis in August 1945.
They found that beyond a hastily deserted anti-aircraft emplacement dug into the
terrace, the property had survived the Nazi occupation more or less unharmed.
retreating Germans had theorized, however, that in order to utilize the roads
over the Luberon massif, an Allied force might well come ashore in Cassis. Consequently,
they scuttled two large Mediterranean cruse ships across the mouth of the harbour
and, at the time, these brutal hulks ravaged one of La Batterie's most precious
assets - the breathtaking view across the bay to the mighty face of the great
wrecked ships are now only a memory, so once again, visitors may sit hypnotized
by the same scene Napoleon gazed out upon as he sat pondering his future in "Le
Petit Cabanon," the little stone hut that remains intact. It is the same
view that bewitched Winston Churchill when he took painting lessons from a certain
Miss Oliver, an English lady who formerly lived on the estate. And of course,
it is also the panorama that cast its timeless spell on Jerome Hill and his grateful
friends for nearly thirty-five years.