A pioneer of abstract art in post-Second World War Britain. He was born in 1911 in Northwood, Middlesex, and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art under Henry Tonks and also in Paris, where he developed links with painters on the Continent. At the Slade he won the Orpen prize in 1930. He was born Roger Hildesheim and his parents changed the name to Hilton in 1916, when anti-German feeling was prevalent.
In the Second World War, he served in the Army, part of the time as a Commando, for about three years being a prisoner of war after the Dieppe raid in 1942. He worked as a schoolteacher at Bryanston School, Dorset, from 1947 to 1948, and later taught at Central School of Arts and Crafts, 1954-56.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Hilton began to spend more time in west Cornwall, moving there permanently in 1965. In the same year he married Rose Phipps, 20 years his junior, having divorced his first wife, Ruth David. He became a prominent member of the St. Ives School and gained an international reputation. He won the 1963 John Moores Painting Prize, and was appointed CBE in 1968. By 1974, he was confined to bed as an invalid precipitated in part by alcoholism. His work became less abstract in his later years, often being based on the nude or images of animals. He died at Botallack, not far from St Ives, in 1975.