Hilaire Hiler (American, 1898-1966)

Hilaire Hiler is a charismatic artist and color theoretician with psychoanalytical training born in St. Paul, Minnesota. He  sailed to France in 1919, studied at the University of Paris and ran a jazz club, where he painted interior and exterior murals. “The Jockey Club” was a hangout for artists and literary figures, including Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway and Anais Nin.

American Indian figure painted outside the Jockey Club in Paris
American Indian figure painted outside the Jockey Club in Paris

He moved to San Francisco in the 1930s, and executed murals for the WPA at the location which is now the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Originally designed to be a public beach bathing house, due to a dispute about a casino that would take over the building, Hilaire organized a walk out before the project was completed, however it was nearly finished.

WPA murals, SF Maritime Museum Exhibit, photo by M. Jones
Another view, SF Maritime Museum, Photo by M. Jones

He became interested in “structuralism” in art, and a balance of form and color in the latter part of his career. He created a room at the SF Maritime Museum building called the “prismatarium,” which was recently restored by conservators to its original glory as a full spectrum rainbow color wheel covering the ceiling with grayscale gradients covering the walls.

Prismatarium, photo by M. Jones
Prismatarium, photo by M. Jones
Waterfront 1939
Waterfront 1939
Orange, Blue, Green Split Complement, 1944
Orange, Blue, Green
Split Complement, 1944

He wrote several books on color, painting techniques and paint recipes including:

From Nudity to Raiment: An Introduction to the Study of Costume, 1929

Notes on the technique of painting, 1934

The Painter’s Pocket-book of Methods and Materials, 1937

Why Expressionism? 1946

Hiler Hilaire
Hiler Hilaire


“A painting must satisfy man’s geometrical instinct. ”

-Hilaire Hiler