Ivon Hitchens

Arno No. 5


Not on display

Ivon Hitchens 1893–1979
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 584 × 1549 mm
frame: 811 × 1772 × 100 mm
Presented anonymously 1968

Display caption

Hitchens’s moved to West Sussex from London in 1940 after his house was bombed in the Second World War. He continued to make work, often inspired the local landscape. This painting is the last in a series he made showing the River Rother and River Itchen. Hitchens chose the name ‘Arno’, the name of a river in Italy, to suggest that the work was a representation of nature, not a particular place. He claimed ‘any name will suffice for what is fundamentally an abstract idea’.

Gallery label, November 2019

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Catalogue entry

Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979

T01027 Arno No. 5 1965

Inscribed ‘Hitchens’ b.r. and on turnover of canvas ‘To photo Arno No 5 No 5 [sic] Aug 20 1965’.
Canvas, 23 x 61 (58.5 x 155)
Presented anonymously 1967.
Exh: Waddington Gallery, May–June 1966 (10, repr.).

The artist wrote (15 June 1968): ‘There was also a first essay “Arno One” – and “Arno Three” also in the same exhibition – all the earlier versions showed the indications of a Bridge – but as always I was not interested in illustrating a place but in using the material to recreate a vernal image both true three dimension- ally and on the picture canvas surface – so the bridge as such dies out tho’ its oval shape remains in the repetition of such shapes in the tree branches above which by this geometric shape [diagram: a pointed ellipse] tends to lie on the canvas plane; while the main water shape [diagram: a trapezium] in itself indicates perspective of this plane, accentuated by tone gradation. These two geometric shapes are held in balance by the spot of red – natural to the tree trunk [diagram of the whole picture]. I have painted the River Rother and the River Itchen – near here, as direct landscapes – This Tuscan name merely came to mind in connection with the Bridge idea – and any name will suffice for what is fundamentally an abstract idea’.

He wrote again (25 June 1968) describing the evolution of the composition (each number illustrated with a compositional diagram): ‘No. 1 shows the first “play” with two major divisions in the design. The progression of tones dark to light or vice versa being used to create eye movement and interest in the Left half.’

‘No. 2. unfinished and at present missing.’

‘No. 3. Trying out a division of 3, and the indications of a bridge to repeat the oval branch forms. This tended to make the centre panel too flat, while creating depth on left and right sides.’

‘No. 4. Lengthens the canvas and puts the Bridge plane into perspective while bringing the tree trunk form more to the centre. The water motif now flows out of the pool and under the bridge thus linking the longer canvas.’

‘No. 5. A combination of all the good qualities of the others. The flattening effect of yellow ground on the right side increases the recessions on left half. Had this right side been more heavily painted and the left side in thinner paint then the recession of design combined with thinner paint would have weakened this side too much; whereas now the balance is preserved.’

‘Because they see these large brushstrokes, people (and critics) think this is all splashed on just by emotional chance.’’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1967–1968, London 1968.

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