Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Ivon Hitchens has become one of the most readily recognisable of Modern British Masters with his trademark panoramic canvases celebrating the Sussex landscape of woods and water. His broad brushstrokes and dynamic, lyrical paint-handling is a case study of how Modernism can interpret landscape, embrace abstraction and yet stay true to the spirit of place. Able brilliantly to summarise his direct observations of nature, his rhythmically disposed areas of colour were radically nuanced interpretations of his favourite subjects: landscape, the nude and flowers. His classical training in how to structure a painting was distilled to a new essence as he ordered the information he gathered with an intellectual discipline that balanced the evident exuberance of his painterly expression.
Brought up near Surrey woods, Hitchens settled in Sussex in 1939 after his London studio was bombed. Initially he lived in a gypsy caravan with his wife and infant son in six acres of woodland he had bought at Lavington Common, near Petworth. Gradually he built a studio and living accommodation, named it Greenleaves, and spent the rest of his life there, a painter in the woods. His surroundings became his principal subject, as can be seen in the Freers’ splendid group of paintings. Flowers and garden themes were on his doorstep, his wife and child were willing subjects for figure compositions, and just beyond the garden, the woodland began. Although he did paint elsewhere, Hitchens never tired of his Sussex hideaway and the endless subject matter it offered.
Allen knew Hitchens, he told me, for the last seven years of his life, and after the artist’s death continued a friendship with Mollie, Ivon’s widow, and his son John, an artist in his own right. As a consequence he was able to build up a holding of Hitchens paintings and works on paper of considerable range and interest. Allen bought figure and landscape drawings but also three very early paintings on paper, in watercolour, gouache and tempera (lots 313, 336 and 337). The oil paintings he acquired are distinguished by their friendly domestic size, and the fact that several are just off-square rather than the more usual landscape format. This makes them especially desirable when most of Hitchens’ canvases are large double-square horizontals. He did frequently use the square-ish format for flower paintings (e.g. lots 312, 335 and 353), but here we see him employ it also for a garden painting (lot 313) and an early Sussex landscape (lot 355). It should be noted that although Hitchens was happy to use canvases that were very nearly square, he avoided the absolute regularity of the perfect square, with its built-in stasis and harmony. Clearly, Hitchens preferred a bit more movement in his compositions.
The idea of Hitchens bashing in the brushstrokes in broad streaks, bunches and slipways of paint — green, magenta, violet-blue — as if in the throes of splashy and undisciplined self-expression in front of the landscape, is totally wrong. He undertook the most meticulous preparation for re-creating nature, a classical and structural approach which rather contradicts the romantic appearance of his paintings. Around 1954 he summarised his procedure: ‘I seek first to unravel the essential meaning of my subject, which is synonymous with its structure, and to understand my own psychological reactions to it. Next I must decide how best it can be rendered in paint, not by a literal copying of objects but by combinations and juxtapositions of lines, forms, planes, tones, colours etc such as will have an aesthetic meaning when put down on canvas. My method is usually to paint a quick “sketch”, then to work out a careful, well-knit design, then to destroy this and start again, painting freely, regardless of the literal proportions of forms because of the way colour reactions of space and form tend to destroy or cut across the actual edges of forms.’ And again, despite the much-vaunted painting en plein air he practised all his life, he said: ‘Art is not reporting, it is memory.’