Ivon Hitchens (1893 – 1979) - Poppies in a Green Bowl, c. 1930
“I seek to recreate the truth of nature by making my own song about it (in paint).”
- Ivon Hitchens
I had never visited the Garden Museum before although I have passed it hundreds of times, and only occasionally felt curious about what was inside its walls. My first visit though was well rewarded. I found the front of house staff to be, very friendly, and welcoming. The museum sits on the bank of the Thames and is set within the medieval and Victorian building of the former church of St Mary's at Lambeth, (the oldest structure in the borough of Lambeth apparently). The church is also appropriately the final resting place of the first British gardener of renown - John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638). The occasion of this visit was to see the exhibition Ivon Hitchens: The Painter in the Woods, but I was also interested to explore the building and its gardening-related collections. There was much art on a floral theme exhibited throughout the museum as well as gardening tools, and other garden-related paraphernalia, including a small selection of gnomes.
Cedric Morris (1889-1982) - Poppies and Sweetpeas, c.1930
Among the museum's permanent collection I really enjoyed seeing this floral vitrine installation of elegantly arranged dried flowers by artist Rebecca Louise Law.
There were many more works of art and gardening related objects to see than I have space to show here, and having enjoyed them I was eager to get to the Ivon Hitchens exhibition. The exhibition Ivon Hitchens: The Painter in the Woods depicts how during the wartime era after his studio was bombed Hitchens abandoned London for a caravan in the greenery of the Sussex countryside, before eventually making a home there and developing a country garden on six acres of land which he named Greenleaves. The effects and influences of this environment on Hitchens' art is documented through some lovely, colourful, semi-abstract paintings of his garden glimpsed through windows and doors which reminded me at times of those of Pierre Bonnard which I had seen earlier this year at Tate Modern here. Included here are some of Hitchens' 'Eye Music' paintings, his term for his long rectangular canvases in which the eye "listens" to the narrative of compositions as it scans across the painted surface. Hitchens was not a natural gardener and he employed a gardener to keep order in the sprawling plot at Greenleaves. He enjoyed painting flowers but would be frequently frustrated when having arranged them and then readying himself to paint his poppies, he would find them wilting and the petals having fallen. He called this 'the tyranny of these blasted poppies'. His flower paintings were very popular however, and when he was chosen to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1956 flower paintings were among the selection chosen to represent his particular oeuvre.
Ivon Hitchens - Lavington Common, 1938
Ivon Hitchens - Spring Woodland, c.1940
Ivon Hitchens - Poppies in a Green Bowl, c.1930
Ivon Hitchens - Composition Wildflowers, 1939
Ivon Hitchens - Garden Conservatory, 1935
Ivon Hitchens - Foxgloves, 1932
Ivon Hitchens - Sunflowers and Blue Jar, c.1947
Ivon Hitchens - Studio with Open Doors, 1942
Ivon Hitchens - Flowers Red and Gold, c.1949
Ivon Hitchens - Autumn Flowers, 1942
Ivon Hitchens - Irises, Greenleaves, c.1952
Ivon Hitchens - Tangled Pool No. 10, 1946
Ivon Hitchens - Pink Lily No. 3, 1946
Ivon Hitchens - Figures with Lilies, c.1951
Ivon Hitchens - Red Splash, 1976
Hitchens' floral paintings enjoyed, it was time to head out into the grounds of the museum's garden spaces to enjoy the real thing. Having finally visited the Garden Museum I found that I really enjoyed my time here, and hope to return soon to see their next exhibition - a show of classic Ladybird book illustrations with a gardening theme.
Ivon Hitchens: The Painter in the Woods
was on until 15th July
The Garden Museum
Lambeth Palace Road