River at Avington, No.1
Oil on canvas: 18(h) x 46(w) in / 45.7(h) x 116.8(w) cm
Signed lower right: Hitchens; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist’s label attached to the stretcher: "River at Avington" No.1. / 1965 / by Ivon Hitchens / Greenleaves . Petworth . Sussex
London 1893 - 1979 Petworth
River at Avington No.1
Signed lower right: Hitchens; signed, dated and inscribed on the artist’s label attached to the reverse: “River at Avington” No.1. / 1965 / by Ivon Hitchens / Greenleaves . Petworth . Sussex
Oil on canvas: 18 x 46 in / 45.7 x 116.8 cm
Frame size: 27 x 55 in / 68.6 x 139.7 cm
Waddington Galleries, London
Dr J Heaton, acquired from the above, 23rd June 1966, then by descent
The river at Avington, near Winchester in Hampshire, is the Itchen and it will have been its renown for fly fishing that first attracted Hitchens to it rather than any chance similarity to his own name. Fishing, an enthusiasm already in boyhood, came to be his only recreation but even that often doubled as a reconnaissance for suitable subjects to paint, as in the case of Avington.
This first version of the motif is a colouristic tour de force. In it Hitchens takes to an extreme what he had learnt from Van Gogh, Gauguin and, above all, Matisse: no longer to imitate natural colour but to transpose it; to use colour expressively not descriptively. Since his art had always been colour-based, this was a natural development and pointed forward to the complexity and refinement of colour to be seen in the paintings of his last decade. This painting, a harbinger of things to come, must have come as a shock to viewers in 1965 and may even have seemed no more than a daring experiment to the painter himself.
Delicately painted though they are, footbridge and handrail are established as the centre of interest by the broad, vertical brush strokes emphatically registered above them, while beneath, on either side, the waters of the river, still recognizable in their heightened guise of pink, purple, white, blue and green, all melting into each other, flow placidly on. For Hitchens is not a Fauve, boldly offsetting primary colours, but an English landscapist, heir of Turner and his “tinted steam”, unique in his orchestration of colour and dynamic use of brushstroke to create an endlessly flowing, independently valid pictorial composition.
There could be no better example of Hitchens’ differing treatment of the same motif than the two versions of River at Avington. In contrast with the high-key, busily detailed first version, the second is built out of a few, carefully considered, seemingly naturalistic blocks of colour. Here the alders overhanging the river, the tall poplars in the middle distance and the hills silhouetted on the horizon are instantly readable and much of the water is evoked simply by the untouched, white-primed canvas. If there is a danger of too much prettiness in the first version, the second, with its cool greens and blues could not be more economical. Taken together, the two versions demonstrate Hitchens’ endless inventiveness.
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.