Catalogue entry

Ivon Hitchens 1893-1973

T00873 Forest Edge No. 2 1944

Inscr. ‘Hitchens’b.r.
Oil on canvas, 23¼ x 63½ (59 x 161.3).
Presented by Mr. Howard Bliss 1966.
Coll. Purchased by Mr. Howard Bliss from the Leicester Galleries 1947.
Exh. Leicester Galleries, March 1947 (11) as ‘Forest Edge’; From Gainsborough to Hitchens. A Selection… from the Howard Bliss Collection, Leicester Galleries, January 1950 (99) as ‘Plantation Edge, No. 2’; Painters’ Progress, Whitechapel Gallery, May–July 1950 (38) as ‘Forest Edge No. 3, 1947’; Twentieth Century Form, Whitechapel Gallery, April-May 1953 (21); Venice Biennale, 1956 (British Pavilion (6), repr. in illustrated version of British catalogue), where dated 1946–47, and British Council tour (Munich, Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam); The Howard Bliss Collection, Leighton House, March-April 1960 and Sunderland, July–August 1960; Art Exhibitions Bureau tour of paintings from Howard Bliss Collection, Australia, March–November 1961, and six centres in Britain, September 1962–May 1963; Arts Council, Tate Gallery, July–August 1963, and tour (42); Art Exhibitions Bureau tour of paintings from Howard Bliss Collection, fourteen centres in England, November 1963–July 1966.

The present acquisition was the third to be painted in a series of three versions of the same subject, each version being successively larger. All three pictures were originally titled ‘Plantation Edge’, but later, after discussion between the artist and Mr Howard Bliss, the titles of the last two were altered to ‘Forest Edge’, to distinguish them from Hitchens’ ‘Plantation Drive’ in the collection of Mr Bliss’s brother. The title of the first painting in the series was also changed from ‘Plantation Edge’, but neither its whereabouts nor its new title are known. It measures approximately 16 x 43 inches; the second in the series (now ‘Forest Edge No. 1’, painted circa late autumn 1943) measures approx. 21 x 52 inches. The present acquisition was painted in the early spring of 1944. Despite being exhibited under different titles in 1947 and 1950, it already had its present title by March 1947.

The artist has stated (letter of 24 January 1967) that ‘Forest Edge No. 2’ was painted near his home in East Sussex in an area of woodland which constantly reappears in his pictures (including ‘Plantation Drive’ 1943; ‘Winter Walk’ Nos. 1, 2 and 3, 1948 (all four pictures reproduced in Patrick Heron, Ivon Hitchens, 1955), ‘Firwood Ride’ Nos. 3 and 4, 1957, ‘Forest Shelter’ 1961, and ‘Purple Avenue No. 5’ 1961 (all three pictures reproduced in catalogue of Hitchens retrospective exhibition, Tate Gallery, 1963)). At the time when these pictures were painted this area was ‘a patch of dense woodland with different openings and clearings – but bounding on to open fields – which always set a problem – to hold eye and pictorial interest to the centre and left side – when the open air “escape” was really on the right side’. The artist later added (letter, 6 February 1967) that the opening on the right side was not pronounced in the first painting in the series. In ‘Forest Edge No. 1’ it was reduced in size but still bore out ‘the original intention of dividing the canvas into a progression of three tones (the darkest at the left)’. Then, in the present acquisition, ‘to give something of the mysterious romantic quality of the forest, the right hand ‘avenue of escape’ was darkened to allow the spectator’s interest to focus down the central avenue’.

Referring to a certain schematic relation between ‘Forest Edge No. 2’ and the Tate’s ‘Winter Stage’ 1936 (4923), the artist observed (letter, 24 January 1967) ‘that interest in composing two, three or more “compartments” into one whole has always interested me... But in “Winter Stage” and “Forest Edge” the romantic mystery of gloomy winter woods perhaps forms the starting point which then has to receive pictorial form. Later the movement and interplay of colour, representing space, and the controlled movement of [the] eye across the picture surface by that use of colour, has been a logical development.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.