Monument in a forest
Oil on canvas: 18.5(h) x 56.5(w) in / 47(h) x 143.5(w) cm
Signed and dated lower left: Hitchens 73; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist’s label attached to the stretcher: "Monument in a forest" / 1973 / by Ivon Hitchens / Greenleaves. Petworth Sussex
London 1893 - 1979 Petworth
Monument in a forest
Signed and dated lower left: Hitchens 73; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist’s label attached to the stretcher: “Monument in a forest” / 1973 / by Ivon Hitchens / Greenleaves. Petworth Sussex
Oil on canvas: 18 ½ x 56 ½ in / 47 x 143.5 cm
Frame size: 27 ½ x 65 ½ in / 69.8 x 166.4 cm
Jonathan Clark, London
Private collection, UK, acquired from the above
London, Jonathan Clark, Ivon Hitchens: Under the Greenwood, May 2016, no.25, illus.
One autumn day in 1973, on one of his infrequent visits to London, Ivon Hitchens found himself walking down the narrow passage beside Burlington House, familiar to him as a student at the Royal Academy Schools sixty years earlier. Outside the entrance to the Schools he was arrested by a large stone sculpture of a kneeling woman hiding her head in her upraised arms. It made such a strong impression on him that he immediately made enquiries and having identified the sculptor, aptly named Roger Stone, arranged with him, there and then, to have the massive work transported to his home in West Sussex, where he had it positioned at the border of dense woodland.
This little bit of history is necessary to explain the title, Monument in a Forest, though it is largely irrelevant to an appreciation of the painting itself. Coming to it fresh and uninformed, the viewer may well imagine that the monument must be the prominent shelter-like form, brown against ochre, that dominates the centre of the picture. In fact, the sculpted female torso, on its square stone plinth, is barely hinted at in the lower right corner of the canvas. It is no more than a mysterious presence of which one may become aware only after exploring the livelier, more emphatic areas of this complex, abstract work.
The painting, whose length, typically for Hitchens, measures three times its width, is divided vertically into six compartments or fields of interest, each of differing depth, movement and colour, and each relating in a different way to its neighbour. Having once established this six-part structure, the eye is led horizontally across the canvas by a subtle variety of brush marks, both broad and thin, and by lines scored into the paint by the wooden tip of the paintbrush. The whole composition would have been built up fairly fast, in front of the motif, over a basic design earlier outlined in acrylic on the primed canvas. Close inspection suggests that Hitchens must have needed at least a dozen brushes of assorted thickness and breadth to obtain his effects. Touches of vermilion, yellow and pink enliven the surface and two patches of dark green edged with yellow provide a striking contrast to the basic orchestration of alternate browns and purples. Both its complexity and its fluency mark this work as belonging to Hitchens’ final flowering (he was eighty when he painted it), as does the hint of mystery created by the statue, enveloped in its cocoon of dark blue, separate from the rest of the painting yet adding to it an extra, otherworldly dimension.
Ivon Hitchens, A Sybilline Courtyard, 1974 (in which Roger Stone’s statue is clearing delineated)
Oil on canvas: 71.2 x 101.6 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London
IVON HITCHENS CBE
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.