Posted: 7th April 2021
Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) is arguably one of the most popular British artists of the 20th century. He’s best known for abstract landscape paintings that feature swathes of bright colour, evoking forms of the English countryside. There are two oil paintings by him in the Ferens Collection: The Path Between Waters, 1937, and Woodland Landscape, 1940.
Hitchens was an active figure within the London art scene during the 1920s and 1930s. He was a member of the London Group and became a co-founder of the Seven and Five Society in 1919. The Seven and Five Society attracted many significant artists including Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and Hitchens exhibited with them in the 1930s.
After Hitchens’ house and studio was bombed in 1940, during the Second World War, he moved to Petworth, East Sussex with his wife and son. They initially lived in a caravan on a patch of woodland, and then later built a studio and a house. Hitchens remained there until his death, producing work inspired by the surrounding countryside.
Hitchens’ main inspiration was nature and he chose to paint most of his works outdoors – no matter what the weather!
It’s interesting to note that Hitchens also considered music an important influence on his work, he said: “My pictures are painted to be ‘listened’ to”. Music provided a language that Hitchens could relate to – he used it to describe how he ‘composed’ his pictures with lively central mark-making, alongside areas of broad brushwork.
Hitchens painted ‘Mural’ in 1954, measuring 6 metres by 21 metres for the main hall of Cecil Sharp House, London. It was the largest mural in the country at the time of its unveiling. He also represented Britain at the 1956 Venice Biennale.
The Path Between Waters is a semi abstract landscape painting made up of fresh earthy tones of mainly greens and blues, with small flashes of pink and purple suggesting flowers. Hitchens uses expressionist line, colour and texture to convey a scene of an overgrown path in the middle of a marshy woodland with cottages. Broad sweeps of colour are used to suggest light and shade, distance, and atmosphere, rather than the actual appearance of a landscape.
One iconic element of Hitchens’ work is the use of the panoramic format. He first experimented with this in 1936 on a large scale work called Winter Stage, one of the first works by Hitchens to enter the Tate Collection. The Path Between Waters is also in a panoramic format, this encourages the viewer’s eye to move freely over the image taking in the different features of the landscape. A curved pool of water is the focus on the left of the painting, surrounded by rising tree trunks, branches and foliage.
This is one of my favourite paintings in the collection because I really enjoy how Hitchens uses various techniques to evoke an experience or memory of being within a particular landscape. The viewer can really immerse themselves within the English countryside and can almost hear the sounds of rusting trees or birds, feel the light, sense the moisture, the presence of trees and movement of the rippling water. It’s easy to imagine myself within the depicted landscape relaxing and enjoying the nature around me.
Hitchens’ landscape paintings encourage us to slow down and take in all the sights, sounds and smells. During lockdown taking walks within our local landscape has been a welcome distraction and a great way to slow down and relax.
Image credit: Ivon Hitchens, The Path Between Waters, 1937. © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens. All rights reserved, DACS 2021
Written by Exhibitions Officer, Claire Longrigg
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