Modern & Post-War British Art
Modern & Post-War British Art
ORANGE LILIES AND WHITE DAISIES
signed; also signed and titled on a label attached to the canvas overlap
oil on canvas
62 by 86cm.; 24½ by 33¾in.
Executed in the mid-1940s.
Acquired by the mother of the present owner in 1960, and thence by descent
We are grateful to the Estate of the Artist for their kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
Orange Lilies and White Daisies is a tour de force of a painting - a nominally simple still life, of a spray of flowers in their white paper wrappings, that explodes with all the movement and energy of an Abstract Expressionist masterpiece.
No-one in British art in the 20th century quite lays paint on a canvas in the way Ivon Hitchens does, which is partly why he was such an inspiration to a younger generation of abstract painters such as Heron, Hilton and Lanyon. And in Orange Lilies and White Daisies we see all of his trademark techniques: the variety of brushstrokes, from long horizontal sweeps to staccato vertical dashes; his exquisite handling of the weight of paint, from brushes thick with colour that, decades after being painted, still feels almost liquid, to the chalky finish of a brush run almost dry; and, above all, his use of colour and tone to create a sense of space - ‘space through colour’ to use the title of his recent retrospective at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, a title which itself is an adaptation of Patrick Heron’s description of his own colour-field work of the late 50s and 60s.
It was Hitchens, of course, who had laid the groundwork for Heron’s move to pure abstraction. Heron wrote the first monograph on Hitchens in 1955, in which he focuses almost exclusively on the abstract quality of the work, what Hitchens himself described as ‘a visual sound.' And if one closes one’s eye a little in front of White Lillies and Orange Daisies, the motif - flowers on a table in Hitchens’ modest studio-house in the Sussex woods, the world outside glimpsed through the window to the right - soon disappears, replaced by a swirling pattern of bright, colourful passages offset with interludes of black, an image whose drama and mood is carried in the paint itself, in the juxtaposition of colour, form and texture. With its bold use of black and inky blues in contrast to high-saturation oranges and yellows, as well as the webs of black lines that link across the surface of the work, Orange Lilies and White Daisies has more than a hint of Arshile Gorky’s work from the same moment, work that laid the foundations for New York’s Abstract Expressionism.
To view this work in purely abstract terms is as correct a way to approach it as it is to be seduced by the beautiful rendering of the flowers and the easy airiness of the studio: after all, Hitchens would have wanted you to hold both thoughts simultaneously. As the artist himself wrote (in various fragments, stitched together by the art historian Peter Khoroche): ‘Painting is painting. It exists as a creation in its own right, just as does music.... Painting is to do first and foremost with paint, not with illusionistic juggling. In a good painting one should get pleasure from the paint - the weight of paint, the thickness and thinness of paint, the relation of paint to the primed canvas... the relationship of colours and balance of colour areas. All these go to make up the liveliness of the canvas, all should be taken into consideration by the painter, and can be appreciated by the spectator before he ever looks into the picture’s depth to discover what it is expressing’ (quoted in Peter Khoroche, Ivon Hitchens, Andre Deutsch, London, 1990, p.57).
Until relatively recently, Ivon Hitchens was known more for his ‘landscapes’ - the legacy, perhaps, of his highly successful exhibition at the Serpentine in 1989, which focused exclusively on that aspect of his work. And yet, from the very beginning of his career, he had exhibited flower paintings alongside his landscapes (as well as nudes and figure studies). Each ‘motif’, though, was given the same treatment: it is always just a starting-off point, from which painting - pure painting - takes over.