Ivon Hitchens was born in London in 1893, the only son of the painter Alfred Hitchens and his wife Ethel. His creativity and artistic talent were evident from a young age and Hitchens attended Bedales School, before studying at St John’s Wood Art School in 1911 and then the Royal Academy Schools from 1911-12, again from 1914-16, and returning after the First World War in 1918-19. Hitchens youth was plagued by illness following his suffering of acute appendicitis at the age of 10 and this greatly impacted his adulthood and instilled his love of the English countryside and a quieter way of life.
In his early career, Hitchens lived and worked from a studio in Hampstead in London and became part of a close circle of avant-garde artists including Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth. In the 1920s and 30s Hitchens was a progressive artist, pushing the boundaries whilst looking to the work of the French modernists Cèzanne and Matisse. In 1921 Hitchens exhibited with the newly-formed Seven and Five Society and was elected a member the following year, exhibiting in all its exhibitions until 1935. In 1940 a bomb landed next door to Hitchens Hampstead studio and this prompted him to move from London with his wife Mary and young son to the idyllic countryside of Petworth in West Sussex. For the next forty years, the woodland surrounding Petworth and Midhurst would become his home, place of study and constant source of inspiration, resulting in an extraordinary body of paintings that were international in spirit despite being rooted in the English landscape. Rather than limiting him, Hitchens seclusion in Sussex engendered a single-minded determination that was potently modern in its obsession. Hitchens’s very identity as an artist was intrinsically tied up with the landscape of Sussex.
Hitchens abstract works are deeply rooted in his environment, with his output consisting primarily of landscapes, nudes, and still lifes. In his commitment to colour and open brushwork similarities can be drawn to the modern French masters, especially Bonnard. However Hitchens painted mostly outdoors and his technique developed from a tonal treatment that recalled the informality of Constable's sketches. Originating in the quintessentially English artistic tradition of uncovering human characteristics and emotion in the natural world, Hitchens belonged to a generation of modern British artists that seized and transformed this legacy.
Almost always working in situ, Hitchens sought a union between artist and environment, a spark from which a painting, or series of paintings, could flourish: “Setting up canvas and box in all weathers, I seek first to unravel the essential meaning of my subject…and to understand my own psychological reactions to it.” Hitchens’s paintings were founded upon a rigorously constructed theoretical framework of “seven main principles…: opposition, transition, subordination, rhythm, repetition, symmetry and balance.” Hitchens would begin a work with a sketch in paint, then a detailed plan, each, in turn, destroyed, before starting afresh on a clean canvas. Hitchens favoured narrow rectangular canvases, believing the format could convey the sensation of passing time, what he called ‘eye-music’ as the picture unravelled across the canvas before the viewer’s eye.
Throughout his career Hitchens had numerous solo exhibitions including retrospectives at the Royal Academy, the Serpentine and the Tate in London. He represented Britain at the 1956 Venice Biennale alongside Lynn Chadwick, and he was made a CBE two years later. His work is held in international public and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, the Tate, the Courtauld Institute Gallery, and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.