Ivon Hitchens

White Star Dahlia, yellow and green

Oil on canvas: 22.2(h) x 33(w) in /

56.5(h) x 83.8(w) cm

Signed lower left: Hitchens; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist’s label attached to the stretcher: 90 "White Star Dahlia, yellow & green" / 1957 / by Ivon Hitchens / Greenleaves Petworth Sussex

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London 1893 – 1979 Petworth

White Star Dahlia, yellow and green

Signed lower left: Hitchens; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist’s label attached to the stretcher: 90 “White Star Dahlia, yellow & green” / 1957 / by Ivon Hitchens / Greenleaves Petworth Sussex

Oil on canvas: 22 ¼ x 33 in / 56.5 x 83.8 cm

Frame size: 33 x 44 in / 83.8 x 111.8 cm

In its original painted gessoed frame


Mrs MC Hitchens

Royle Bantoft;

Sotheby’s London, 13th March 1974, lot 133;

Monty & Barbie Passes, acquired from the above


London, Arts Council of Great Britain, Tate Gallery, Ivon Hitchens A Retrospective Exhibition, 11th July-18th August 1963, no.90: the exhibition travelled to Bradford City Art Gallery, 31st August-22nd September 1963 and Birmingham, City Museum and Art Gallery, 28th September-20th October 1963

Ivon Hitchens’ approach to painting, flowers, landscape and even nudes was the same, based on the principles of composition which he had formulated by the mid-1930s and continued to develop for the rest of his life. In the later, more abstract works the difference of genre all but disappears. The year 1957 marked a significant paring down and further abstraction in both his landscape and his flower paintings and it is understandable that he should have wished to include this bold work in his retrospective exhibition held at the Tate in 1963.

Compared with his flower pieces of the 1940s and early ’50s, where the bouquet of flowers in its vase sits recognizably on a table-top often with the walls of a room as background, this painting is anchored to the world of appearances only by the most perfunctory references to the white star dahlia of its title and two or three other not-too-closely-defined flowers. No stalks, no vase and only the merest allusion to a table-top in the outlining strokes of brown that form a heptagon lower right. Any attempt to identify parts of the painting as though it were literally representational will soon be baffled. The pleasures it offers are essentially to do with brush mark, pigment and the visual music of its colour shapes in a largely two-dimensional pattern. Turn it upside down or rotate it 90o, that pattern should still be readable.

By the direction of his brushstrokes and the disposition of his colours on the canvas Hitchens can sometimes dictate quite precisely how he wants a picture of his to be read. Here, however, he leaves the viewer comparatively free to follow his own inclination. There is, though, a hint of guidance in the picture’s title. Starting at the top left corner and allowing one’s eye to be caught by any occurrence of yellow or green, either singly or in combination, one will travel in a clockwise motion until, at the bottom centre, one is brought up short by the three largest colour patches of all—aquamarine, grey and cerulean blue stacked one on top of another. Contrasting with this cool area is a complex mixture of red, blue, purple and violet spilling warmly down the right-hand edge of the frame (in a marvellously delicate series of feathery brushstrokes) and ending in the blobs of brown—first three, then two—which, if you insist, are the legs of the table but exist to be appreciated for their own, delectable selves. This brings us to the pattern of varied colour shapes enclosed by the heptagonal table-top, which acts as a counter rhythm to the larger clockwise rhythm already described and at the same time is subtly related to the three dominant colour patches to the left of the table-top.

This analysis may be tiresome to read—especially as the eye takes the whole thing in within seconds—but serves at least to show that there is nothing arbitrary about this painting, apparently spontaneous though it appears to be. Hitchens builds up a self-consistent, abstract artefact by deploying patches of pure colour without any conventional modelling or chiaroscuro, emphasizing their shape by isolating them with a surround of pure white primed canvas and in so doing he discovers an entirely original method of picture making.

Peter Khoroche

Ivon Hitchens, Two Poppies on a Blue Table, 1957

Oil on canvas: 60 x 113.5 cm

Government Art Collection, London


London 1893 –1979 Petworth

Sydney Ivon Hitchens was the only child of artist Alfred Hitchens and Ethel Margaret Seth-Smith, a talented amateur artist. Following his early education at Conamur School, Sandgate, Kent, Hitchens attended Bedales School, Hampshire from 1903 until acute appendicitis cut short his school days and sent him on a recuperative voyage to New Zealand. Hitchens’ art education began at St John’s Wood School of Art, London from 1911 and continued at the Royal Academy Schools from 1912-16. He returned to the RA Schools between 1918-19, following two years’ service in hospital supply during the First World War. Still not fully recovered from his youthful illness, Hitchens was declared unfit for active service in 1916.

After graduating from the RA Schools, Hitchens moved into a studio at 169 Adelaide Road, Hampstead in 1919 and later became part of a circle of avant-garde British artists including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson living in Hampstead in the 1930s. In 1920 he exhibited at the first exhibition of the Seven & Five Society, becoming a member that same year. Hitchens was elected a member of the London Artists’ Association in 1929, of the London Group in 1931 and of the Society of Mural Painters in 1937. The artist exhibited with the Leicester Galleries from 1940 until 1960, when he moved to the Waddington Galleries.

Hitchens married Mary Cranford Coates on 27th June 1935.  He and his wife left London in 1940 with their only child, John, for a caravan at Greenleaves, Lavington Common near Petworth, Sussex, after a bomb landed next door to his Hampstead studio. For the next forty years, Hitchens’ six acres of woodland near Midhurst became his home, place of study and constant source of inspiration.

In 1951 the artist won a purchase prize at the Festival of Britain exhibition, 60 paintings for ‘51.  Hitchens completed a mural at Cecil Sharp House, Regent’s Park Road in 1954, and installed another mural at the University of Sussex in 1962.  In 1956 the British Council arranged a retrospective exhibition of his work for the Venice Biennale.  In 1957 Hitchens was created CBE. A major retrospective of Hitchens’ work was arranged by the Arts Council at the Tate Gallery, London in 1963. In 1979 a third retrospective exhibition was held at the RA Diploma Galleries.

Post War BritishIvon Hitchens