- Ivon Hitchens
- Autumn Flowers No. 1
- oil on canvas
Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, London, where acquired by Peter Findlay Gallery, New York, 1932
Grace Wilke, Wichita, Kansas, U.S.A and thence by descent to Streeter W. Funk
Furthermore, in Autumn Flowers No. 1 we can read almost all the varying (and competing) aspects of British Modernism in one picture, moving from left to right: from the tighter, Bloomsbury Impressionist rendering of the red and purple flowers, through to a more ‘naïve’ rendering of the flowers in the centre (showing perhaps the influence of Nicholson and Wood, with whom Hitchens had time spent at Bankshead, Ben and Winifred Nicholson's Modernist-Primitivist experiment in living); through to the roughly brushed and loosely constructed right-hand third that is pure Hitchens and which shows the beginnings of the visual style of the 1940s and '50s that was to make him such an inspiration to a younger generation of abstract painters, most notably Patrick Heron.
Hitchens had lived and worked in Hampstead since the early 1920s and so had witnessed this bohemian area of London transform into the centre of the British avant-garde, helped in no small part by the arrival in the area in the 1930s of key figures in both the home-grown and international Modern Movement: from Nicholson, Moore and Hepworth, through to Gropius, Moholy-Nagy and (by the end of the decade) Mondrian. Hitchens himself knew all about the latest ideas and theories coming out of Europe, but just as these ideas arrived, in person, on his doorstep, he made the decision (one quite radical given the surrounding intellectual milieu) not to entirely embrace abstraction. Instead he made a lifelong commitment to figuration, albeit a figuration in which abstract values of formal harmony and the independence of colour and mark-making from representational function are as important as the underlying motif.
The life of the studio was central to this and Hitchens’ light and airy space at Adelaide Road became a key subject: sparsely furnished, it had everything he needed, from vessels and pots for still-life to a divan for models to recline on, to a conservatory at the rear, full of plants and flowers. Today Hitchens is better known as a landscape painter, or more precisely a painter of landscapes refracted through the prism of abstraction, but throughout his career, flower paintings were just as important and all of his exhibitions, from the 1930s through to the '70s, would contain at least a few flower still-lives.
A spray of flowers, often loosely arranged in a simple vase or jug, their paper wrappers pulled open but left on, gave Hitchens all of the painterly avenues he needed and that he would also find in landscape, 'in which surface pattern and spatial recession sing together and each part of the canvas is in relationship to every other part – in which pigment and brush-stroke can be appreciated for their own sake, yet mysteriously and simultaneously suggest something seen and felt' (Ivon Hitchens, quoted in Khoroche, ibid. p.106).