Oil on canvas: 16(h) x 29.3(w) in / 40.6(h) x 74.3(w) cm
Stamped by the Hitchens Estate on the reverse
London 1893 - 1979 Petworth
Ref: BZ 202
Stamped by the Hitchens Estate on the reverse
Oil on canvas: 16 x 29 ¼ in / 40.6 x 74.3 cm
Frame size: 24 ½ x 38 in / 62.2 x 96.5 cm
Painted circa 1967
The Artist’s Estate;
Jonathan Clark, London;
private collection, UK
At first sight this painting strikes one as no more than a swift oil sketch, capturing the brightness and tumult of a blustery spring day. Look closer and a careful design reveals itself beneath the apparent spontaneity. It quickly becomes clear that every single brush mark, or group of brush marks, contributes something vital to the composition and that the picture is built entirely of contrasts: a pale, empty right half is balanced by a rich, crowded left half (the two linked by a Chinese hat of sage green); the horizontal yellow-against-purple of the boat in the foreground is deliberately, shockingly, set against the other dominant colour-shape—the vertical stack of intense green, left of centre. But the main contrast is that between the broad gestures and light colours of 7/8ths. of the painting and the small, dark landscape at the left-hand edge, receding into a brown distance with iridescent peacock blue and green seemingly reflected in water. Suddenly the viewer is led into an enclosed space, invitingly mysterious.
This opposition between the outer and the inner is the underlying idea of the painting. And it is the idea that makes it abstract, not the greater or lesser degree of representation: the idea suggests something beyond the particular scene, creates a sense of mystery and transcendence. It is a spring day that Hitchens is evoking but also something more. With the assurance, the daring and the economy of full maturity, he is free from the danger of mere copying: the colour spectrum on his palette is wider than ever before, his colour composition more complex and startling. Bolder too is his handling of the brush: the sweeping strokes and colour-shapes make all the more impact for being isolated on a background of white primed canvas. Like the variety of paint texture, they are to be savoured for their own sake. A longer look brings its rewards.
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.