Ivon Hitchens arrived at Greenleaves during the Second World War, escaping from bombing raids on north London. He’d bought a caravan for £20 and six acres of land on Lavington Common. He was to live there for the rest of his life, clearing some of the woodland, and building a studio which gradually grew into a house. He also built a courtyard garden, planting flowers in the sandy soil around the house, but left most of the surrounding land uncultivated. He wasn’t really making a ‘garden’ in the usual sense; he could see innumerable subjects for painting in the woods all round him, and his aim was essentially to keep them as they were.
A close friend said that Hitchens’s move to Greenleaves had a decisive effect on his painting: ‘the remaining forty years of his life were largely dedicated to the exploration of his immediate surroundings in all weathers, all seasons, and every nuance of the changing light.’ Unlike contemporaries such as Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland, Hitchens was not trying to convey the ‘spirit of place’. Instead he investigated the properties of a landscape in terms of form, space and depth. Many of his paintings suggest the damp and gloom of English weather, but they are relieved by passages of almost Mediterranean colour, evoking the brightness of sunlight, or sky reflected in water.