Lot 9
  • 9

Ivon Hitchens

50,000 - 80,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Ivon Hitchens
  • Holbrook 
  • stamped twice with the Artist's Estate stamp on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 49.5 by 64.5cm.; 19½ by 25½in.
  • Executed circa 1938.


The Estate of the Artist
Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London, where acquired by the present owners, May 2012


London, Jonathan Clark Fine Art, Ivon Hitchens, April 2012, cat. no.10, illustrated.


Andrew Lambirth, 'Fruitful Oppositions', Exhibition Review, The Spectator, 26th May 2012, illustrated.

Catalogue Note

Holbrook was painted around 1938, the year that Ivon Hitchens truly discovered his rhythm as a painter, developing a language in which landscape painting and abstraction are held together in an effortless embrace, that belies Hitchens’ serious consideration of all of Modernism’s ideologies in the years previously. This is a painting of a beautiful place – Holbrook Pools, near Ipswich, which Hitchens first visited in 1937; of the poetic effects of trees reflected in still water; the sensuousness of a wide blue sky articulated by a single white cloud. And yet it is equally a painting concerned with purely abstract values, of colours and forms juxtaposed; of sweeping gestures of a brush, sometimes loaded with paint, sometimes almost dry, that seem to exist entirely for themselves; and of the physical space of the canvas itself articulated by being left raw here, having its edges worked there, in a way that prefigures Clement Greenberg’s prerequisites for Abstract Expressionism by well over a decade. As Mel Gooding put it succinctly, ‘the dual imperatives of Hitchens’s art are, then, those of truth to the eye and truth to the painting’ (quoted in Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London, Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979, (exh. cat.), 2012, unpaginated).

Holbrook is also an early example of Hitchens’ interest in the Japanese pictorial construct of nōtan – the art of placing dark and light side by side in order to create a sense of distance or recession, which Hitchens further adapts by separating each band of colour occasionally with the white of the primed canvas sometimes and then at other times allowing these bands to meet and merge. In Holbrook this is beautifully handled, from the light blue of the sky to the rolling black gesture of the distant tree-line that wraps itself around the boathouse, through the sky reflected back in the lake to the flat unarticulated olive of the path that bisects the ponds to the (unpainted) white of the water nearest-to. In this passage of pure painting it is easy to see why Hitchens was such an influence on the next generation of abstract artists, such as Roger Hilton (lot 23) and Patrick Heron (lots 22, 29)  – the latter being the author of the first monograph on the artist, published in 1955, a text that reads like a manifesto for Heron’s own conversion to abstraction a couple of years later. It was Heron who first notes the simultaneity in Hitchens’ work, that we observe objects in his paintings – bridge, boathouse, trees on the banks, water in a lake – as ‘existing in paint’  (Patrick Heron, Ivon Hitchens, Penguin Modern Painters, 1955).

When Hitchens’ Hampstead studio was damaged by bombing in 1940 he left London for the relative safety of the Sussex woods. His current crop of paintings were carefully rolled and stored in tea chests, where they slowly became forgotten as the gypsy caravan the Hitchens family first lived in was upgraded to a low-slung, purpose-built studio and house, surrounded by shallow pools and towering trees. As is typical of many artists, Hitchens forged ahead with new work and never looked back at the works in the chests, instead offering his dealer works fresh off the easel for his successive shows. As such, a number of his paintings from the 1930s lay unseen until two important exhibitions at Jonathan Clark Fine Art in London in 2009 and 2012. Holbrook was one of these works, essentially on show for the first time, albeit seventy-five years after it was painted.