Ivon Hitchens

Divided Oak Tree, No. 2


Not on display

Ivon Hitchens 1893–1979
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 514 × 1168 mm
frame: 850 × 1455 × 90 mm
Purchased 1977

Display caption

In the late 1950s Hitchens began to paint series of landscapes based on one subject such as the 'Divided Oak Tree'. He chose an oblong canvas because it encouraged the viewer's eye to range freely over the image, as his own eye had originally analysed the landscape. Bands of colour run across the painting, enhancing a sense of the horizon, but the divided oak at centre left brings the viewer back to the middle. The patches of white canvas in his pictures have a particular function. He wrote, 'The intention is that the spectator's eye can travel along these areas, from floe to floe, over the picture surface instead of being engulfed or drowned in a morass of paint representing or aping realism'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T02216 DIVIDED OAK TREE, NO 2 1958

Inscribed ‘Hitchens’ b.l.
Oil on canvas, 20 1/4 × 46 (51.5 × 117)
Purchased from John Hitchens, the artist's son (Knapping Fund) 1977
Prov: Given by the artist to Howard Bliss (c.1959–60); given by Howard Bliss to John Hitchens c.1969
Exh: Paintings by Ivon Hitchens from the Howard Bliss Collection, Leighton House, London, March–April 1960 (13); Art Exhibitions Bureau Australian Tour 1961 (50); Ivon Hitchens: A Retrospective Exhibition, Tate Gallery, July–August 1963, Bradford City Art Gallery, August–September 1963, Birmingham City Art Gallery, September–October 1963 (110, repr. on cover of catalogue and in catalogue); Art Exhibitions Bureau tour to British Galleries, 1966–7 (25); Ivon Hitchens, Landscape Into Abstract, Rutland Gallery, April–May 1972 (22, repr.)
Lit: T. G. Rosenthal, Alan Bowness, ‘Ivon Hitchens’, London 1973, p.17, repr. pl.41

This entry is based on three letters from Ivon Hitchens (July 1977), (3.7.78), and (12.7.78) and has been read and approved by him.

‘Divided Oak Tree’ No 2 is one of a series of landscapes, using the same or similar subject as starting point, painted by Ivon Hitchens during the late fifties and early sixties. The artist wrote to the compiler: ‘... it might add interest to note that these works were all executed in West Sussex where the natural woodlands, the soil, and the large private estates have longer survived the invasions of the woodman's axe’.

Shortly after its completion, Hitchens gave T02216 to the late Howard Bliss, in recognition of the latter's help and patronage; (Bliss's collection eventually totalled some sixty or seventy of this artist's works).

The artist has written of T02216: ‘I know this to be a good example of my particular way of seeing the world because it states clearly the result of careful observation and consideration of the subject; and the production of a number of canvases of trial and error. Finally this was an interpretation painted in the presence of my subject, and the application of the paint to canvas, making the firm statement intended.’

In T02216 Hitchens has selected his familiar oblong canvas shape, a format he prefers for landscape painting, in that it allows the eye to range across the surface unchecked, to ‘read’ the picture plane, thus echoing his own preliminary analysis of the landscape itself. In T02216 he has further elongated or compressed his composition by the introduction of two dark areas, running in horizontal bands along the top and bottom of the canvas. These are broken in tonality, so that, reading from left to right, the upper band moves from light to dark, while the lower band reverses this process. (Hitchens writes of his concern to ‘... keep the opposite corners of a canvas opposite in tone and colour’). Between these bands, he has divided the canvas into an area of ‘cool’ colour (at left), juxtaposed by a larger ‘warm’ area which covers most of the remaining surface. As a counterpoint to this initial movement from left to right, he has introduced a large blue shape, a tree, which leans into the composition at right, directing the eye back towards the centre space. This movement is echoed by the divided trunk of the oak tree at centre left - a device which acts as a vertical anchor for the composition.

A further dimension is explored by the addition of graduated bands of colour, ranging through warm browns to violet and creating a spatial recession which leads the eye in towards a deep central space, as if along a path through trees. This receding movement is parried by a green plane placed at a diagonal to the left of the ‘path’. Composed of similar bands of colour, but closer in tonality, the green plane draws the eye back to the surface of the painting, re-establishing the material value of the picture plane.

This construction, by means of floating tonal bands of colour, necessitates, in the artist's words ‘... building these channels with an edge, either a dark or a light boundary. But I prefer to keep the darks as part of the notation, so white becomes the natural and expressive boundary.’

Describing his method of working, Hitchens wrote (Notes on Painting, Ark 18): ‘I try to use a notation of tones and colours so that the design flows from side to side, up-down, and in and out. I am not interested in representing the facts as such until the visual music has been created. But this creation must satisfy me as being true to life, though not naturalistically accurate.’

Despite the fact that he is known to have made at least two other similarly titled paintings during the same period (‘Divided Oak, No. 1,’ (1958) exhibited Recent Paintings by Ivon Hitchens, Leicester Galleries, May 1959 (29, not dated) and ‘Divided Oak III’ (1960), coll: Edgar W. Morris, California), Hitchens has pointed out that T02216 bears a close relation to another contemporary work, ‘The Edge of the Wood’ (1958), which he believes could properly be spoken of as the ‘original’ of the series. While the surface handling of T02216 is looser, the shapes more obviously abstracted, the two works are remarkably similar in both colour and composition. The main difference lies in the handling of the right hand areas in each canvas - (e.g. in ‘The Edge of the Wood’ the dark tree shape at right is more evident and naturalistically painted.) Hitchens has also compared T02216 to a slightly later work, ‘Green Glade’ (1961) (coll: Middlesborough Art Gallery), which he describes as ‘another rendering of the same subject in green summertime perhaps’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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