Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979

Hitchens studied at St John's Wood School of Art and at the Royal Academy Schools intermittently between 1912 and 1919. He exhibited with the 7 & 5 society in 1921 and continued to do so throughout the 1920s.

He soon became part of the circle of artists known as the London group and exhibited with Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and others during the 1930s. Hints of his mature style can be found in the delicate green-grey shades of a still life such as Spring Mood No. 2 (1933; artist's estate), which was influenced by Braque, but he also experimented with pure abstraction, as in Coronation (1937; London, Tate). After his house was bombed in 1940 he moved to a patch of woodland near Petworth, W. Sussex, living at first in a caravan which later acquired numerous outbuildings. He worked there for the next 40 years, distanced from the predominantly literary currents of British modern art.

In his commitment to colour and open brushwork he was closer to the modern French masters, especially in his Fauvist orange nudes set in sunlit interiors. He painted mostly outdoors, however, and his technique developed from a tonal treatment that recalled the informality of Constable's sketches, as in Damp Autumn (1941; London, Tate), where the motif is clearly legible, to brushmarks that became wider, quickening in pace as they deflected vertical and horizontal movement, as in Arno No. 4 (1965; London, Tate).

Hitchens's landscape paintings are better understood as being not pictures of woodland scenery but experiences, memories of having been in a specific landscape; of the noise and the vibration of light when hearing birdsong; feeling what is above, below, behind; sensing the moisture, the presence of ferns, oaks, the passing moods of rustling trees and rippling water. To include all of these sensations and to translate the totality into the illusion of mobile colour, Hitchens used a long, horizontal format, heavily framed to give a panoramic vista. He registered the sensations of the weather and woods around him as frontal planes, with oil paint often damp and earthy in colour and laid on to the canvas with forthright sweeps and stabs of broad brushes. His characteristic manner was the deftly placed blocks of brushed pigment set on a bare white ground, sometimes with a few straggling lines scratched in with a palette knife. In Firwood Ride No. 4 (1957; London, Tate), these blocks of mingling colour suggest transience and are placed at rhythmic intervals to articulate plasticity, contrast and the play of light and dark.

Hitchens neither painted landscape as a detached observer, nor did he abstract forms from nature, and he valued the disciplines of Cezanne too highly to allow structure to be controlled by subjective response alone. His output was prodigious, but of uneven quality, and included large-scale commissions such as the mural in Cecil Sharp House, Regent's Park Road, London (1954). The freshness of colour in the paintings of his last years could either burst open in glorious flourishes, or lie dormant in secretive greys. He was an isolated figure but his art was never eccentric, and as a colourist his legacy is best found in the painting of Patrick Heron