Sussex Landscape is an archetypal painting from Ivon Hitchens’s late period. It has a distinctive wide format, with the width measuring two-and-a-third times greater than the height – standardised proportions...
Sussex Landscape is an archetypal painting from Ivon Hitchens’s late period. It has a distinctive wide format, with the width measuring two-and-a-third times greater than the height – standardised proportions at the time which are shared by contemporary works like Landscape: Water to Boat House beyond (1976, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and Giant Oak Tree on Green Sky on Fields (1978, Courtauld Gallery, London) (fig. 1). Much of the painting is executed in singular sweeps of a broad, square brush, using bright contrasting colours.
Hitchens moved to the woods at Graffham near Petworth in West Sussex in 1940, and it was there that Sussex Landscape was painted. In his work of the 1960s and ‘70s, a decisive shift in Hitchens’s palette took place and he began making extensive use of contrasting, non-naturalistic colours. Where his landscape works of the 1940s and ‘50s are notable for their low-key, brown-green, wooded tonality, those from the later phase of his career frequently employ bright gradients of purple and green.
In Hitchens’s mature work, a number of large-scale mural commissions had an effect upon his working practices. In the latter half of his career, he completed installations at the Society for English Folk Dance and Song, the University of Sussex, and Nuffield College, Oxford. This work encouraged the artist to conceive his paintings in terms of much larger proportions, and his small-scale easel works reflect the augmented perspective afforded by these commissions, with larger brushes, sweeping strokes, and taut, well-designed compositions. Sussex Landscape epitomises this enhanced outlook, with the midground of the composition constructed from a sequence long horizontal brushstrokes, with each application of the brush registering sharply against an unprepared ground. Rather than restricting his brush marks to these large, structural applications, pictorial variety and local detail are achieved with a variety of imaginative means: short, two-tone strokes of impasto in the sky; splodge-like brown applications of a round brush; wet-on-wet slashes with a coarse brush; and so on.
Hitchens enjoyed considerable public recognition in his later career. He was created a Commander in the Order of the British Empire in 1958 and his collectors included Her Majesty the Queen. His work was widely exhibited in his final years, with a retrospective at the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, in 1978, and a larger retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy Diploma Galleries in 1979. These accolades gave him confidence, and his last years were marked by a rare fluency. Hitchens is one of the few artists of his generation that experienced no loss of facility and invention in his desuetude. A work like Sussex Landscape, completed in his eighty-fifth year, is the equal to any number of works from the preceding two decades.
Private Collection, Ireland At Bonhams, London, 14 June 2005, lot 117 Richard Green Gallery, London Private Collection, USA