Ivon Hitchens’ vibrant paintings of his wild Sussex gardens will be celebrated in an exhibition this summer at the Garden Museum. Known for his semi-abstract, richly coloured landscape paintings, Hitchens (1893 – 1979) found endless inspiration in his seasonally-changing habitat. Escaping London during World War Two, Hitchens and his family lived in a cramped caravan on six acres of land. They called their home Greenleaves, and developing the colourful house and haphazard gardens there became a lifelong passion project.
After studying at the Royal Academy, Hitchens’ early career saw him immersed in London’s artistic community of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a key member of the Seven and Five Society, who were famous for holding the first ever all abstract exhibition in Britain. The society also included Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and artist plantsman Cedric Morris.
The pivotal moment of Hitchens’s career came after his Hampstead studio suffered bomb damage in 1940. The year before, he had purchased six acres of Sussex woodland to have somewhere peaceful to paint out of the city. Making a quick exit from wartime London, he moved with his wife Mollie and young son John, and they found themselves living in a cramped caravan he had towed onsite by horses.
They called their home Greenleaves, and over the decades it grew beyond a caravan in the woods – a studio was built, then a house.They created a courtyard garden, its haphazard flowerbeds planted with sunflowers, poppies and dahlias in the sandy soil. Beyond that, their home was also surrounded by a semi-wild 6 acres of rhododendron, silver birch and bracken. The light filtering through the silver birch trees at Greenleaves presented Hitchens with a challenging and ever changing subject.
Hitchens found endless inspiration in his new haven. This exhibition will include his Eye Music compositions, a term he coined for narrow, rectangular canvases with unfolding narratives as the eye “listens” to the painting. Hitchens himself noted in 1940, “I seek to recreate the truth of nature by making my own song about it (in paint).” The Eye Music series features meadows, flowers and woodlands depicted in lively fields of colour.
Ivon Hitchens: The Painter in the Woods will tell the story of an unexpected gardener, and an artist always seeking new perspective on the natural, bringing Hitchens’ wild Sussex garden to life once again.
Studio with Open Doors (c.1942) by Ivon Hitchens, Private Collection © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens. All rights reserved, DACS 2019
Composition, Wildflowers (c.1939) by Ivon Hitchens, Private Collection © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens. All rights reserved, DACS 2019
Flowers, Red and Gold (1940) by Ivon Hitchens, Richard Green Gallery, London © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens. All rights reserved, DACS 2019
Irises - Greenleaves (c.1952) by Ivon Hitchens, private collection © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens. All rights reserved, DACS 2019
Ivon Hitchens painting in his garden, photograph by George Garland. COURTESY WEST SUSSEX RECORD OFFICE N37768