You can’t help feeling that English painter Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) was always somewhat outside the main action. He described his boyhood and youth as ‘quiet and unexciting’, and unlike his contemporary Paul Nash he didn’t fight or serve as a war artist in either of the world wars. He remained on the edge of the group of intellectual Hampstead-based abstractionists in the 1930s, suspicious of their aesthetic theorising and an onlooker at their parties, and when a bomb damaged his London studio in 1940 he moved permanently out of the city to rural West Sussex, living initially in a converted gypsy caravan in the middle of the woods.
His self-imposed exile from the metropolitan art world can’t have helped his reputation. His last major retrospective exhibition was in 1963, for his 70th birthday. In a Preface to his monograph on Hitchens, my Book of the Week, Peter Khoroche writes that ‘Hitchens’ work is still insufficiently known and understood, and his achievement consequently underrated’ . The ‘retrospective exhibition’ of Hitchens’ entire career represented in this book is an attempt to correct that.
Yet in other ways, Hitchens is everywhere, a part of our cultural fabric. You can find his paintings in public and private collections up and down the UK, from Aberdeen to Worthing, and outside the UK too. Until next month the Tate’s Winter Stage, Moatlands Park, 1936 (reproduced on p.69 of Khoroche’s book) is on display at Tate Britain as part of their exhibition Looking at the View, Turner Contemporary have Garden Cove (1948-50) on loan from the Arts Council Collection, and on 7 June the Ashmolean Museum holds a workshop on ‘Ivon Hitchens and Modern Painting‘. Bonham’s have three Hitchens paintings included in their Modern British sale on 29 May, with estimates ranging between £30,000 and £70,000.
Many of Hitchens’ paintings are simply beautiful to look at. Their apparent spontaneity, however, perhaps discourages deeper critical engagement. Peter Khoroche talked often to the artist during the last ten years of Hitchens’ life, and exchanged some 250 letters with him. His book presents Hitchens’ aims as a painter, and the theory that underlies his paintings, as nearly as possible in the artist’s own words. Read the book and look afresh at the paintings of an extraordinary artist.
Lucy Myers, Managing Director
Ivon Hitchens by Peter Khoroche. 2007. Hardback. 208 pages. 110 colour and 40 b&w illustrations. £45 / $90