Algerian Woman No.1 signed 'Hitchens' (lower left) oil on canvas 53.5 x 94.5 cm. (21 x 37 1/4 in.) Painted circa 1949
PROVENANCE: With The Waddington Galleries, London With Mathon Gallery, Malvern, where purchased by the father of the present owner, 21 November 1983 Thence by descent
Algerian Woman No.1 is a rare and important example of figure painting by Ivon Hitchens. It was not until the Leicester Galleries mounted an exhibition of twenty-seven figurative pictures in 1950 that this aspect of his oeuvre was properly brought to wider public attention and due to the few examples that exist, it is not something that has often been discussed.
Hitchens had always been interested in and keen to paint the human form. As a student at the Royal Academy Schools there would have been a strong emphasis on draughtsmanship and he would have drawn from antique casts and live models. However, as he forged his own career, a lack of money made the hiring of a professional model difficult and his move to the Sussex countryside gave him unlimited access to landscape. The twenty-seven paintings that were exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, and the present work, came about due to a unique and prolonged period Hitchens had with a professional model in 1948 - he was given the opportunity and seized it.
Algerian Woman No.1 has clear affinities with the figure painting of Matisse and there can be little doubt he was a strong influence. In compositional terms, the present work also bears resemblance to Manet's famous Olympia. Colour was intrinsic to Hitchens' style throughout his career and the present work showcases a confident variety of vibrant tones. In the present work, black helps to firmly outline the nude's body whilst the unusual lilac creates an important rhythm. This allows for the background to be successfully built up with blocks of further colour. As in Algerian Woman No.1, Hitchens' use of the wide, landscape format for his figure paintings helps to create movement and therefore life. This movement and rhythm stretches along the canvas to the nude's feet, which float off the composition quite deliberately.