Curved Barn, Ivon Hitchens, 1922
At a glance
Artist: Ivon Hitchens
Materials: Oil on canvas
Acquisition: Presented by the artist (1979)
This painting of the old barn at Bex Mill in Heyshott, Sussex by Ivon Hitchens was among the first artworks to be acquired by Pallant House Gallery, donated by the artist just before his death in 1979. At that point, the gallery was only an idea formed in response to the offer by Walter Hussey, the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, to bequeath his important art collection to the city if the Queen Anne townhouse was restored as a public museum to house it. It was a few years before the gallery opened in 1982.
Curved Barn, painted in the early 1920s, shows his understanding of the writings of Roger Fry and Clive Bell on ‘significant form’ and had been awoken to an interest in Cézanne. He later described the painting as ‘an essay in essential form and the dynamic relation of one plane to another.’ Bell had asked in 1914, ‘Who has not, at least once in his life had a sudden vision of a landscape as pure form? For once instead of seeing it as fields and cottages he has felt it as lines and colours.’
It was in 1903, when Hitchens was sent to Bedales School in Hampshire at the age of 10, that he first experienced the Hampshire and Sussex downlands. This countryside would have a profound impact on his work for the rest of his life.
Hitchens was initially at the centre of experimental Modern British art at this period; he exhibited with the Seven & Five Society in 1921 and then became a member of the group the following year, submitting this painting to that year’s exhibition. This group included some of the most prominent artists in the collection at Pallant House Gallery including David Jones, Barbara Hepworth, Frances Hodgkins, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, John Piper and Christopher Wood.
In 1940, during the Second World War, Hitchens and his wife fled London to escape the bombing. They moved to a caravan near Petworth in Sussex and, as Hitchens reputation as an artist grew, they upsized their caravan to a one-storey house named Greenleaves on a substantial plot with a small lake. His work over the 40 years that he lived at Greenleaves became progressively individualistic. His friend and fellow artist, Patrick Heron noted ‘Hitchens in West Sussex provides the most distinguished example of […] profound personal identification of a painter with a special place, or landscape.’
In 2019, Pallant House Gallery presented Ivon Hitchens Space through Colour, a major survey that brought together the full scope of Hitchens’ work, from his early landscape paintings of the 1920s and 1930s to his vivid abstracts and later figurative paintings.