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Ivon Hitchens - Avington water no. 3

Ivon Hitchens

Avington water no. 3

Oil on canvas: 23.3(h) x 66.7(w) in / 59.1(h) x 169.5(w) cm
Signed lower left: Hitchens; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist's label attached to the reverse:"AVINGTON WATER" No.3 / 1965 / by IVON HITCHENS / Greenleaves . Petworth . Sussex

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 London 1893 - 1979 Petworth

Ref: BZ 170


Avington water no. 3


Signed lower left: Hitchens; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist's label attached to the reverse:"AVINGTON WATER" No.3 / 1965 / by
IVON HITCHENS / Greenleaves . Petworth . Sussex

Oil on canvas: 23 ¼ x 66 ¾ in / 59.1 x 169.5 cm

Frame size: 31 x 75 in / 78.7 x 190.5 cm





Waddington Galleries, London;

Mrs Adie, acquired from the above in the late 1960s



London, Waddington Galleries, Ivon Hitchens, 24th May-25th June 1966, no.21, illus.



The River Itchen at Avington in Hampshire inspired two series of paintings. In the first, River at Avington, the flatness of the river meadows suggested a scheme of horizontals: each of the four paintings in this series differ greatly from one another but all present a wide view. In the Avington water series, painted in the same year, 1965, Hitchens draws nearer to his subject: trees and foliage overarch the water and the sky is pushed further into the distance. (There is the same sense of water enclosed by leaves and branches in the closely related Arno series also dating from 1965.) Within the two groups of paintings Avington water no.3 is the biggest and boldest.


When discussing any picture, Hitchens always focused on its structure, analysing the various compositional elements as if to show how the painting worked. However spontaneous-seeming, every one of his pictures is underpinned by a basic structure. Sometimes the structure is artfully submerged by gestural brush marks or striking colour contrasts but at other times, as in Avington water no.3, he seems almost to flaunt the framework or armature on which a painting is built up. The outstanding thing about this painting is its width. Avington water no.1 measures 20 x 46 inches, a standard ratio of height to width. By adding a further twenty inches to the width, without appreciably increasing the height, Hitchens has made room in no.3 for a powerfully contrasting element which balances, even in some measure fights against, the rest of the painting. This is the horizontal dynamic of the work. But in counterpoint to it he divides the painting vertically into five compartments and, incidentally, five different depths. On the far left water and foliage are separated by a faint horizontal line but otherwise merge in an aqueous green thinly brushed over the fine weave of the canvas that shows through towards the top.


This ethereal section, the only peaceful area of the painting, is saved from blandness by the small, half-obscured rectangle of lilac. The three interlocking /\/\-shaped central sections lead the eye into three different vistas and then, guided by the arching brush marks, across the painting to confront the complex colour clashes of the far right section, a world away from the veiled mystery on the far left. Here, in fact, we have a picture within a picture, a highly suggestive waterscape in an entirely different key from the rest of the work. Apparently Hitchens wanted to bust up the perhaps too easy rhythmic and colouristic harmony with a dash of drama. In this section one detects small patches of magenta showing through the vigorous overpainting - echoes of the broad sweep of magenta in the top right-hand corner - and it is probable that originally he chose magenta as the dominant warm colour throughout section 5 in contrast to the dominant cool green of sections 1-4 but then opted for something altogether more complex, more acidulous, more shocking.


In Avington water no.3 Ivon Hitchens recomposes a river scene by showing several aspects of it simultaneously in true Cubist fashion while also creating a self-sufficient abstract painting in his own unique language of colour and brush mark. Now in his early seventies, he was at the height of his technical and imaginative powers and unafraid to take risks. This is a magisterial painting by a twentieth century master.


Peter Khoroche


Ivon Hitchens, Arno no.5, 1965

Oil on canvas: 23 x 61 in / 58.5 x 155 cm




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.


Other Works By
Ivon Hitchens:

Ivon Hitchens - Forest, 'O hurry to the ragged wood' Ivon Hitchens - Landscape, spaces of woods and hills Ivon Hitchens - Red splash


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