Alex Reid & Lefevre, London
Thence by descent
Leeds, Temple Newsam, Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, 14th April – 3rd June 1945, cat. no. 22
London, Leicester Galleries, Paintings by Ivon Hitchens, March 1947, cat. no. 9
London, Leicester Galleries, “From Gainsborough to Hitchens” – A Selection of Paintings and Drawings from the Howard Bliss Collection, January 1950, cat. no. 98
‘By the mid-1940s Hitchens’ reputation as a painter of landscape—principally of West Sussex, but also of Suffolk and the Welsh borders—rested on his sensitive evocation of the feel of place coupled with a virtuosic handling of paint and a seductive use of colour. Felled Trees, 1942 (the first and most naturalistic of four versions) encapsulates these qualities, conjuring up the immediately recognizable colours and damp woodland scents of an autumn day in England, while at the same time luring the eye on a cunningly circuitous trail over every part of the canvas.
Woodland became a key feature of Hitchens' paintings from the early 1940s onwards, following the family’s move to Lavington Common, Sussex, after his studio in Adelaide Road, Belsize Park was badly damaged by a bomb. Surrounded by trees and nature, his canvases took on a new vitality and spontaneity, as is evident in the present work. It is likely that Felled Trees depicts the larch wood that Hitchens was preoccupied by during the war and which the government had ordered to be felled (Peter Khoroche records that the single-minded artist managed to get the order countermanded, Ivon Hitchens, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2007, p.73). Two confident, horizontal strokes of white paint lie across the left side of the canvas, representing trunks which have been striped of their leaves and branches, whilst in the distance two more trees stand defiantly over them.
‘His paintings came out of a total absorption in nature and an acute sensitization of all his senses, not only his eyes. Ablauschen is the German word for this alert state of receptivity, but there seems to be no English equivalent. It applies specifically to listening – to straining one’s ears so as to find, or feel, one’s way into the hidden nature of things – a process of intimate understanding from within’ (ibid., p. 91).