- Ivon Hitchens
- plantation drive
- signed and dated 44; also signed and inscribed with the title on a label attached to the stretcher
- oil on canvas
- 51 by 104cm.; 20 by 41in.
London, Leicester Galleries, New Paintings By Ivon Hitchens, March - April 1944, cat. no.18;
London, Leicester Galleries, Paintings from 1940-1952 by Ivon Hitchens, June 1952, cat. no.16;
London , Royal Academy, Ivon Hitchens: A Retrospective Exhibition, March - April 1979, cat. no.21, illustrated in the catalogue p.23;
London, Hayward Gallery, Ivon Hitchens, 1989, cat. no.14;
London, Serpentine Gallery, Ivon Hitchens: Forty-five Paintings, October – November 1989, cat. no.14.
Patrick Heron, Ivon Hitchens, Penguin, Harmondsworth 1955, col. pl.1;
Alan Bowness (ed.), Ivon Hitchens, Lund Humphries, London 1973, col. pl.10.
Plantation Drive is perhaps one of the most significant examples of Hitchens' painting to come to auction in recent years. Whilst its exhibition history and position in the literature on the artist make this clear, it may be worth recalling the comments on the painting made by Andrew Causey in his essay for the catalogue of the 1979 retrospective of Hitchens' paintings. Here Causey looks at Hitchens' wartime paintings, and particularly Plantation Drive, within the context of both the contemporary landscape work of Sutherland and Nash and also as related to the inter-war revival of interest in the romantic landscape vision of the eighteenth century.
Variously dated to 1943 or 1944 in the literature, Plantation Drive is a painting that has its genesis in the darkest days of WWII and thus can be seen to share in the rather introverted neo-romantic vision of the English landscape that was a predictable result of the years of isolation during the conflict. The drama and poetry of the landscape that is inherent in the work of contemporaries as diverse as Minton, Sutherland and Nash is clear too in Hitchens' paintings, and the rich colours and expressive brushwork of Plantation Drive seem to evoke a superreal atmosphere of pure landscape. However much of this may be posited as deriving from the siege-like zeitgeist of England during the war years, there are also other possible sources for such an image, and Causey suggests that Hitchens' own interest in the landscape vision of Gainsborough may be of significance. In the wake of the important exhibition of British Art at the Royal Academy in 1934, Roger Fry published Reflections on British Painting and we find Hitchens marking noteworthy passages in his own copy of this study. Fry illustrated Gainsborough's now well-known but then only recently rediscovered Mr and Mrs Andrews (London, National Gallery), and it is possible to see in both the technical aspects of the composition and the evocation of the landscape a link to Hitchens' own work. Hitchens' notes and writings suggest that his compositional practice during the 1940s was clearly based on a structural integrity and an almost musical system of harmonies that tied together the various elements. Using the wider format of the double-square canvas forced the viewer to read across the image, and thus by employing a combination of open and blocked spaces the viewer is drawn into a space which the artist's deft and suggestive use of colour and light brings to life.
Although it is Sir Arthur's younger brother, Howard, whose name is inextricably linked with that of Hitchens, becoming his most important patron and supporter, it may be that it was Sir Arthur and Lady Bliss' purchase of Plantation Drive that led Howard Bliss to the artist. First exhibited in Hitchens' Leicester Galleries exhibition in March-April 1944, this acquisition would therefore be concurrent with Howard Bliss' first contact with Hitchens, perhaps suggesting that the obvious pattern of the artist's most important collector directing his brother to Hitchens' paintings may actually be less clear, if not in fact reversed.
'He shows, as always, a lack of interest in the conventional reality and earthiness of forms, but communicates by his colour symbols a strong poetic feeling for such things as a damp autumnal landscape or a vista through a wood-clearing, without referring to their formality at all.' John Piper, The Spectator, 31 March 1944.