Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ivon Hitchens: Forty-Five Paintings

Library Collection Space Manager Ruth Elder shares a lifelong interest in a little-known artist.

I admit that this book has now been sitting on my desk for some time in the office.

All through my childhood a Hitchens print hung on the wall of my home. The same print now hangs in my parents' retirement apartment, and I have made them promise never to dispose of it without giving me first refusal. The print has, throughout my life, pulled me in with its sense of silence, shadows and the unshown, and still continues to do so.

'Divided Oak tree number 2' ; Photo courtesy of Paul Shields. Click image to enlarge.

I also remember a day trip to York in 1990 to see the  Ivon Hitchens Exhibition at York City Art Gallery. It is the catalogue to this touring exhibition which has now found its way to my desk as part of the York Art Gallery Collection, and which still holds me, absorbed by the shapes and shadows of the images.

Ivon Hitchens' lifetime was marked by two world wars and encompassed a period of enormous change and destruction on a global scale. Unfit for active service in 1914 due to a weakness from childhood, Hitchens studied art at the Royal Academy Schools, with a two year period of war effort in hospital supply.  With the end of the First World War and the conclusion of his studies, he set up his own studio in Hampstead in 1919.  Through the 1920s and 30s he lived and worked within the avant-garde circle known as the London Group, which included artists such as Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore.

In 1940 Hitchens was compelled to leave London after a bomb landed next door to his studio. He and his wife moved to a patch of woodland near Petworth in West Sussex called Greenleaves, living at first in a caravan which later required numerous additional outbuildings. Hitchens was to work there for the next 40 years, painting mostly outdoors.

He lived in the midst of what he painted, and most of his work was done within a few hundred yards of his home, which provided the inspiration and subject matter he looked for.

'Boathouse early morning' ; Photo courtesy of Paul ShieldsClick image to enlarge.

“To look at the 'Boathouse, Early Morning' is to enter a world of stillness and expectant silence, and to become still oneself” Peter Khoroche, Forty-five paintings, London:Serpentine Gallery 1989.

It is this stillness and silence that continues to draw me back to the work of Hitchens.

Further reading:

Forty-five paintings
Hitchens, Ivon, 1893-1979 ; Serpentine Gallery ; South Bank Centre.
London : Serpentine Gallery 1989

Ivon Hitchens : a retrospective exhibition
London : Arts Council 1963

(Both from York City Art Gallery Collection)

T. G. Rosenthal, ‘Hitchens, (Sydney) Ivon (1893–1979)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 (Library subscription)

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