Boating Suffolk - Betty Bedford, 1934
Dated & inscribed on turnover; estate stamped verso
Oil on canvas
23 3/4 x 21 1/2 in / 60.5 x 54.5 cm
As a founding member of the Seven & Five exhibiting society, Ivon Hitchens became a driving force of the London group in the interwar period alongside Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth...
As a founding member of the Seven & Five exhibiting society, Ivon Hitchens became a driving force of the London group in the interwar period alongside Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. To escape metropolitan life in Hampstead, Hitchens began to spend ever more time in the countryside where he could throw off social conventions and embrace a new modernity. During the mid-1930s Hitchens spent several summers on the Suffolk coast in the small village of Sizewell where he rented a simple tin-roofed cottage from fellow Seven & Five member and Keeper of Sculpture at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Richard Bedford.
From Sizewell, Hitchens painted a number of figures both indoors and in the rural landscape. In this particular example, Hitchens pictures Richard Bedford’s wife Betty reclining in a boat surrounded by luscious reeds, her head bowed beneath a straw hat. The scene evokes the hazy, decadent summers that Hitchens enjoyed in Suffolk with the Bedfords and other members of the Seven & Five such as John Piper and his wife Myfanwy. Much like John Constable’s spiritual devotion to the rustic countryside of his youth, Hitchens was drawn to the landscape and vast open skies of east Suffolk. Painting just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Hitchens’ work from this period captures a fleeting moment of quietude and a deeply embedded Romantic attachment to pastoral Britain.
At this time Hitchens began to construct his own unique visual language inspired by abstract British artists such as Moore, Hepworth and Nicholson. In the same year that the present painting was made Hitchens showed his work in the first Seven & Five exhibition open only to abstract painters and sculptors. However, Hitchens was eager not to abandon the figure entirely and combined quick abstract brushstrokes with signposts to reality. This careful balance is evident in the masterpiece of the same year ‘Abstract Composition’, now in the Tate collection. In ‘Boating Suffolk - Betty Bedford’ Hitchens surrounds the female figure with his characteristic expressive gestures of colour and line, leaving patches of the white, primed canvas exposed. This unravelling of composition to reveal the canvas beneath creates an openness that reaffirms the flat, abstract nature of the painting surface while teetering on the edge of figuration.
Estate of the Artist