© the artist's estate. Photo credit: City & County of Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Collection
This is one of my favourite works by Hitchens. I would really like to find the location that inspired the painting so that I can visit it. From what I know of him, his landscapes were without exception painted in the open air and not the studio, and are always based on actual locations no matter how they are abstracted by his unique vision. Each has a very special sense of place.
In 1946 when Essex River was painted he'd already moved from London to Sussex, so can we assume this was painted on a holiday? The elided name 'Greenhill' suggests a particular place. Looking at maps, there is a Greenhill in Essex near Hatfield Forest in the west of the county with Pincey Brook nearby. Is this a potential location for the painting?
I exchanged a few emails with his son John Hitchens but in short he didn't know.
Incidentally, there is a very good commentary on the painting by Tim Davies here:
This discussion is now closed. The location was identified as being a view south south east towards Fiddlers Wood from Mill House, Mill Road, Fordham, near Colchester in Essex. The artist is known to have painted at least one other work at Fordham in Essex.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.
A wonderful painting. My initial thought is that 'Green Hill' or 'Greenhill' describes the landscape beyond the river rather than being a particular place name in Essex.
I have found a reference to, and image of, another Essex painting by Ivon Hitchens dated 1946. It is titled 'Fordham Mill Pool, Essex' and it appears to have been exhibited in the March 1947 show of the artist's work held at The Leicester Galleries in London. Fordham is on the River Colne near Colchester. There are hills near to Fordham visible in photographs of the area. My hunch is that 'Essex River and Green Hill' may well have been exhibited at the same Leicester Galleries show but I do not have access to the catalogue. Howard Bliss, the provenance listed by Glynn Vivian, was an enthusiastic buyer of Hitchens work and he was a significant collector of works by other important modern artists such as William Gear and William Scott. In 1955 the Howard Bliss collection of some (or all?) of his collection of paintings by Hitchens was offered for sale and a single page list of exhibits was published. Presumably 'Essex River and Green Hill' was listed. It may be worth checking it but again I don't have access to it. I believe that Ivon Hitchens painted along the east coast in the late 1930s and that he would have been familiar with the area around Colchester. I think the possible River Colne location for the present work is worth exploring further.
The painting 'Fordham Mill Pool, Essex' was sold by Bonhams on 10th June 2015, lot 32. The details may be viewed here: https://www.bonhams.com/search/?q=Ivon Hitchens Essex&main_index_key=lot#/q0=Ivon%20Hitchens%20Essex&MR0_display=search&m0=0?q=Ivon Hitchens Essex
Shaun Everett has commented by email, 02/02/21
'That is difficult. The Hatfield Forest edge is possible. I 'see' St Peter's Bradwell from the bottom of the hill, but the river would not be there, even though the Blackwater is there, so to speak.
Greenhill? There is a Greenhill far away... Associated with St Peter's maybe. A spiritual interpretation.'
Your Bonhams link doesn't work properly, Grant. This goes straight there: https://bit.ly/2MrVrAS
I think, though, you've found the spot. Our painting works well as the view looking south or south-east up Fiddler's Hill from somewhere near Fordham Mill House (formerly F. Lower Mill), with the dark shape of Fiddler's Wood coming across from the left (east), and covering part of the hillside. See the attached joined OS maps from the 1920s. The single building in the painting towards the top of the hill (with I think others further right) is probably Hill Farm at or near the crest of the ridge (bottom left on the map). In the foreground is apparently a double bend in the river (Colne), which flows from right to left (west>east), or left to right on the map. I'm undecided whether the viewpoint is quite close to the mill - perhaps near the old mill-pool just upstream of it (and oriented north-south) - or a good way further upstream where the river gets bendier: it's hard to be sure of the angle...and perhaps one shouldn't be too literal about what we see anyway. It may be easier to understand things if you rotate the map image by 180 degrees; or if you want to play with the map and various overlays yourself, go to https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=16&lat=51.90718&lon=0.79704&layers=168&b=12 (for some reason I can't make a bitly link for it that works).
Also attached is the nearest to the view I can get on Google Streetview; but that is looking from the road bridge over the river (a bit downstream). The mill and actual viewpoint would be some distance further right, and a bit lower in height. The top of the hill is only about 100 ft above the river's level, so perhaps a bit exaggerated in the painting. There should also, I think, be hedge-lines rather than one expanse of field - might he have cheated that...or is it the wrong place after all?
I agree there is a good match with the present-day view south from the vicinity of Fordham Mill House, as can be seen on Google Earth.
Elisions like 'Greenhill' occur elsewhere in the titles of Hitchens' landscapes and still life artworks. Other examples are Firwood, Westwood, Greenglade, Raincloud and Flowerpiece (all from Art UK).
Thank you Osmund and Andrew for your comments. I have been looking for details of other Essex paintings by Ivon Hitchens of circa 1946 to see whether they may help us in our research. I have noted 'Landscape in Essex', listed on Art UK as circa 1945-54, which is held in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. I see that the history is 'purchased 1955' which to my mind points to a probable acquisition from the collection of Howard Bliss. Mr Bliss bought several Hitchens paintings from the Leicester Galleries exhibition of 1947 and I suspect that the WAG painting is likely to have been exhibited there then and that it may well be from the same Essex series dating to 1946. It is worth a look at the WAG oil to help in identifying the location (s) of the Essex landscapes painted by the artist.
I think this is all very much pointing to the Colne Valley near Fordham as the location. Thank you! It also seems very likely Greenhill is a descriptive elision and not a place name. The last point from Grant I find very persuasive as look how stylistically similar the Walker painting and 'Greenhill' are. They have different dates but seem like they could have been painted on the same day or at least in the same mood/palette. This blog from Robjn Cantus
[scroll to the last page]
shows the two paintings together. It also suggests that Hitchens may have sometimes stayed with Blair Hughes-Stanton in nearby Stratford St Mary. I also wondered if the Nashes could have been his hosts, as Wormingford is nearby, but can't find any evidence Hitchens and the Nashes were friends.
The location has been confirmed. The gentleman who farms this land near Fordham in north east Essex has kindly advised that the wood depicted in the painting is Fiddlers Wood. The building at the top of the hill is no longer there. He recalls pulling it down some years ago. Some present day photographs of the view should be forwarded to me within a few days, to assist verification. Once available I will post them to the discussion. Thereafter a recommendation will follow.
Grant, that is amazing information! Look forward to seeing the photos.
A local man has forwarded photographs of the site to me, two of which are attached (courtesy of Mr Mark Cooper). The images show the view south south east towards Fiddlers Wood from Mill House, Mill Road, Fordham. For identification the postcode of Fiddlers Wood is given as CO3 9TU and the Grid Ref of the wood is TL 9301 2672. This all accords with what Osmund suggested in his post of 3rd February. Mr Cooper comments 'The exact spot is in the garden of Mill House so I had to take the photos from the other side of the river (the South side). Both sides of the River Colne are now planted with cricket bat willows so the view would have been quite obscured even if I had been able to take them from the garden'. For the record Mill House is about 120m from Fordham Bridge. OS records the height of the hill as 33.9 metres. As noted in my last post, the building on the hill, to the right of the wood, is no longer there. Unless there are any further comments I propose to summarise the facts and to recommend that the discussion may be closed.
I lost the images when trying to send. Now attached!
Very impressive: while the problem is solved the obvious next question for someone interested in Hitchens is who had Mill House at the time (1946) to provide him with the opportunity of painting the view from its garden?
Thank you Pieter. My Essex contact says that it looks as though the Mill House garden has been extended over the years since 1946 and that it is perfectly possible that Ivon Hitchens painted the view from a non garden setting. Looking again at the painting I think it probable that the artist was working from, or close to, the riverbank.
If it’s of any use, the ‘Mill house, Church Road, Fordham’, was occupied in 1946 by Wallace Wilfrid Blair-Fish and Hilary Margaret Blair-Fish. He was a published author & journalist, whilst she was a registered nurse and had been editor of the ‘Nursing Times’. They’d owned the the house since the mid 1930’s. They also owned a house in London.
Thank you E Jones, as always that is very helpful. A brief check on WW Blair-Fish reveals born 1889 Hornsey and died 1968 Pershore. His wife's dates were 1895-1979. As you mention it appears that Mr and Mrs Blair-Fish also lived in London at Neasden Lane in Willesden. I checked to see whether they were near neighbours of Ivon Hitchens in London but he is recorded as living in Adelaide Road, Belsize Park, Hampstead, which I think is about four miles away. At present I cannot find the link between the two families but it remains a possibility that the artist was a guest at Mill House in 1946. What is clear is that Ivon Hitchens painted at least two works at Fordham, namely the work presently under discussion and 'Fordham Mill Pool, Essex' (also from 1946) which was sold at Bonhams in 2015. I think it is also a possibility that 'Landscape in Essex', with the Walker Art Gallery, as listed and imaged on Art UK, may also have been painted in or around Fordham.
Sarah Lasenby commented by email, 20/02/21
'I am fascinated by what has been discovered so far. I come to it from a different point of view. From summer 1946 holiday to 1951 Spring I spent my holidays [not winter] with John and his family. They had lived in a gypsy van for most of the war an had just been given permission to build a studio and then living quarters. My question is how did Ivon get to Essex ? He never had a car and it is not a direct route by train. The nearest station to London is Pulborough. He took taxis shorter distances to paint such as at Tumble Bay. So I ask how did he get to Essex. May be John Hitchens might remember ? He was six years old then.'
That is a really interesting point raised by Sarah Lasenby. It is not often that we consider the logistics involved in a painting trip for a professional artist. In this case Ivon Hitchens would most likely have his canvases, his paints and brushes, a stool, sketch books, an easel etc, plus all of his clothing and other personal belongings, which would need to be transported to Essex. It may all have been sent ahead by van with the artist either travelling as a passenger with the driver or he may have taken the train separately to Colchester. In those days an artist's dealer often provided financial and other support ahead of a planned exhibition and in this case the arrangements may well have been made by The Leicester Galleries in London W1, who would have been making detailed preparations for the artist's solo show due to be held at their galleries in 1947. Another possibility is that the artist's most prominent patron, Howard Bliss, may have organised and funded the journey. Mr Bliss had first met the artist in 1944 and he provided enormous encouragement to Ivon Hitchens over the years, and at the same time he built a fine collection of the artist's work. This all begs the question raised previously by Pieter, where did the artist stay during his time in Fordham? Was it at Mill House or lodgings elsewhere?
Following contributions made, further research and a site visit, the location of the Ivon Hitchens painting from 1946 titled 'Essex River and Greenhill' has been identified as being a view south south east towards Fiddlers Wood from Mill House, Mill Road, Fordham, near Colchester in Essex. For reference the postcode of Fiddlers Wood is given as CO3 9TU and the Grid Ref of the wood is TL 9301 2672. The artist is known to have painted at least one other work at Fordham in Essex.
Grant, I have asked the Collection if they are happy to accept the findings and comment before closing this discussion, David
The Collection have replied: 'Yes, we are happy to accept the findings of the investigation into ‘Essex River and Greenhill’. Thanks very much to all contributors. It is wonderful to finally pinpoint the location depicted. We have also updated our collections database and object history file with this information.'