Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979


The Estate of the Artist
Ivon Hitchens was born in London in 1893, the only son of the painter Alfred Hitchens and his wife Ethel. After attending Bedales School, Hitchens studied first at St John's Wood Art School in 1911 and then the Royal Academy Schools from 1911-12, again from 1914-16 and finally 1918-19. Hitchens was elected a member of the newly-formed Seven and Five Society in 1920, exhibiting in all its exhibitions until 1935: he would also be an elected member of the London Artists' Association, the London Group, and the Society of Mural Painters. Loosely associated in London with Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth, Hitchens left behind the intellectual milieu of London for the, primarily self-imposed, isolation of West Sussex in 1940 - a move prompted by the destruction of his Hampstead studio during the early stages of the Blitz. Hitchens would remain in Sussex until his death in 1979.

In 1935, Hitchens was at a formative stage in his career. The Seven and Five Society had been rebranded '7 & 5', reduced to numerical values and their association with geometry by Ben Nicholson, who now led the group with an emphasis on greater abstraction. A new verbal and visual language for this new approach was being negotiated in the pages of Axis: A Quarterly Review of 'Abstract' Painting and Sculpture by Myfanwy Evans and John Piper (who Hitchens introduced and would later marry), as well as Herbert Read. This network of artists and writers made Hampstead their hub. Moore, Hepworth and, when fascism tightened its grip on mainland Europe, Naum Gabo and Walter Gropius all mixed with Hitchens in this period. Aesthetic debates and new pictures were savoured, launching him toward the distinctive broad bands of colour and elongated landscape ratio of his canvases that soon emerged.

The present work is an early example of Hitchens's use of more isolated patches of abstract colour. It suggests a maturation of Roger Fry's formalist aesthetic which had a sustained influence on Hitchens since the publication of Vision and Design in 1920. Here, inchoate form is held in check by a cajoling, sensuous line. Citrus yellows are tempered by drifting naval blues and mauves. They form Hitchens's characteristic "sensuous handling of paint and his daring use of colour to create special recession" [Peter Khoroche, Ivon Hitchens, (London: André Deutsch, 1990), p.44]. The presence of a figure, relatively rare in Hitchens's work, foregrounds this sensual impression. The sitter is most likely Mary Cranford Coates, known as Mollie, who Hitchens married on 27 June 1935. The rebellious daughter of a clergyman and a talented pianist, she became a regular model for her new husband. The relationship was explicitly defined by Hitchens's career as a painter; an early gift to Mollie was a copy of Roger Fry's seminal essay Cézanne (1927).

This work may show an exterior garden scene or an interior at Hitchens's home and studio at 169 Adelaide Road. An organic palette suggests the vegetation of a garden uncontained by hard architectural lines, and the figure's hat shields her from the sun-like area of yellow at top left which bathes the scene in bright light. It may also show the artist's garden conservatory which gives a title to a still life of the same year. On the other hand, the influence of Matisse's carefully composed and boldly coloured studios suggests this may be an interior scene. The French master's calligraphic line, and direct address of this sitter lends this work the immediacy of some of the finest contemporary French painting, while it is unmistakeably the product of Hitchens within his innovative Hampstead circle and the burgeoning English school.