Harold Hitchcock

by Leonard Hitchcock

The renowned British painter Harold Hitchcock, born in 1914, is a descendant of the artist George Stubbs and was encouraged to paint at an early age by his grandfather and two uncles who were exhibiting artists at the Royal Academy. He painted from a very early age receiving much praise from Dame Laura Knight and was proclaimed a prodigy by the English press.

He currently lives and works in Devon and is as productive as ever—his painting continues to develop with one man shows in October 2004 in San Jose and Monterey.

'Figures In A Garden' 2004 9ins. x 12ins. Acrylic on paper

Hitchcock's paintings have been acclaimed by a number of prominent writers and critics including Lord Kenneth Clark, Sir Roy Strong [who, as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum asked Harold if he would donate a painting to the museum], Sir Laurens van der Post, Paul Gallico, Christopher Wright, and John Russell Taylor [of The Times]. He has been awarded several distinguished honors including a Fellowship in the Royal Society of Arts [where he was accorded the rare honour of a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1984]. His paintings are hung in significant public and private collections in England, Scotland, Japan, the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia and has had exhibitions in some of the major London galleries. Since the late 1980s he has exhibited mainly in the USA. He is listed in Benezit.

'Florentine Interior' 1989 32ins. x 44ins. Acrylic on board

The Duke of Bedford was an enthusiastic patron of Harolds in the 1960s and in 1965 a highly successful exhibition was held at Woburn Abbey, the Duke's ancestral home. His first major retrospective was held in London in 1967; two years later he visited the United States accompanied by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford.

'Sunrise In A Valley' 1974 40ins. x 60ins. Oil on canvas

Here are comments made by others, beginning with two tributes from one of the greatest art critics of the twentieth century—Lord Kenneth Clark:

'I can tell you sincerely that I am very much moved and impressed. It is rare to find an unashamedly romantic and literary artist. All criticism in the first half of the century was against them, so I not only admire Hitchcock's poetical imagination, but also his courage in persevering in his true style.'
"He really is a most extraordinary artist. One can look at his work for a long time and find each time a great deal that is new."—Lord Clark

'I applaud the force and intensity of Hitchcock's vision and the skill with which it is captured on canvas.'—John Russell Taylor, The Times.

'He is truly remarkable—a phenomenon whose contact with the unconcious patterns of art is really unique and I am so happy that the V&A have seen the light and acquired some of his work.'
—Sir Laurens van der Post

'...beneath the bejewelled surface there is always an ingenious, dedicated intelligence at work, developing and resolving complex formal problems.' —Julian Bell

'...much of his work has a kind of fairy tale quality and escape into a world of peace and beauty...'
—The Duke of Bedford

'...the light is alive. It blazes and shimmers in painting after painting, illuminating corners of the darkest forest. Not since Monet has a painter been absorbed by light as Hitchcock is—he paints it with a technical mastery that leaves other painters amazed.'—Shirley Deane

'To use a musical parallel, he is a mixture of Delius and Mozart. On the surface there is a soft and trance-like quality, with everything suggested and nothing emphasized. But just underneath this surface—which one feels can be peeled off like a skin—the structure of the composition is firm as a rock and the detail hard as a diamond.' —Gordon Brooke-Shepherd.

'Sunrise Over Cythera' 1990 32ins. x 44ins. Acrylic on board

'...it is still part of modern man's history and folklore that golden ages have existed.' 'The composition and light of Claud Lorraine, the light and drama of Turner's mature composition...are present in his work...Turner is never criticized for using the pictorial language of Claud because the achievements and intentions of the two artist were different. In Hitchcock's work the same is true. The effect is one of great individuality.'—Christopher Wright.

'The Paintings Of Harold Hitchcock are windows opening out onto the world of wonderful dreams, magical forests of exotic trees, leaves and flowers and of deep silence.' Paul Gallico—Pulitzer Prize winning author of 'The Snowgoose'

'Dream Sequence' 1977 27ins. x 29ins. Watercolour on board

'The effect draws the viewer into the painting, almost as if to enter the scene, turning as one would to experience the whole setting of that foreign yet familiar place of our dreams and imaginings. Hitchcock renders the places of our subconscious, which are easily recognized but impossible to describe.'
—Lisa Crawford Watson

Lord Clark said of Hitchcock that he is'many men thick', meaning that he has 'the power of recreating forms so that they become expressive of the artist's own epoch and yet keep a relationship with the past.'

The painter and writer Julian Bell said of Hitchcock's work: 'Twentieth century culture marginalizes the idea of the sacred totally. Producing this light, that's more than natural, makes it quite possible to think about sacredness. He has placed himself as a painter at an original angle to his age.'

Hitchcock's credo:
The true function of the arts is to guide man towards his true destiny, towards a true understanding of himself and his inner nature. As we advance on the evolutionary scale, so must we proclaim that state of spiritual realization we have grasped or comprehended through whatever medium we may choose, rather like a bridge to help other people. The artist must cut across the spirit of the age. It is not his function to reflect the conditions of the age...but to follow the unmistakable voice within—the light that should be made known... My belief is that there is one over-riding creator, one supreme creator, that pervades everything— inanimate things, nature, as well as man himself. And it's simply a question of having the courage to completely surrender to that, and to lead a good life as far as is possible, so that one can develop inwardly. It's all a question of receiving what we feel inwardly.

'Girl With Tray' 1993 32ins. x 44ins. Acrylic on board

The Inspiration:
'When I was a child I was staying with my grandfather in a little village...called Thundersley. It was a very rural area. My grandfather had a long garden, and at the bottom of it there was a row of very tall trees—elm trees. I happened to be up early one morning, and I saw the sunlight shining right through the foliage of the trees. I remember the rays of light were spraying out, creating a sense of depth in the trees and the surrounding area, and glinting on the bark of trees, giving them an almost jewel-like quality. I'll always remember the effect it had on me...it was a very uplifting feeling, and it remained with me throughout my life. This experience was the germ of it all. It drove me to become a painter, because I wanted to capture that atmosphere, that vision of light. I paint to create the world I live in mentally, or spiritually...the world of this vision. When I start to paint, I automatically find myself painting a picture which is a transcription of that world. When I paint I just follow this feeling, without letting myself think about it. The play of light on objects has fascinated me ever since. When I look at trees and at light, I look at where the light comes through the foliage, the planes of light passing through the trees; even in the darkest shadow you can still see the light passing through. Whenever I visit places, I gravitate towards those aspects that bring that memory back, a memory which, in its essence, has remained with me.'

Along with Hitchcock's ecstatic experience of light slanting through trees came the resolution that he would spend his life trying to recapture it as a painter. It's as though the little boy standing in his grandfather's garden gazing at the long beams of sunlight coursing through elm trees intuitively felt that this was a vision that would nourish the spirit of his kind. Perhaps it's this double awareness—of vision AND vocation, or content and technique—that separates the artist from the rest of us.

'Thundersley' 1978 12ins. x 19ins. Watercolour on board

Samuel Palmer was 'a man born out of his time.' Both he and Hitchcock had intense epiphanies, or mystical experiences in rural England. In both cases this experience entered their inner lives, and became an impulse that sustained and powered their art. Both men, perhaps because of these experiences, placed the intuition, or the imagination, high above the intellect. Unlike Palmer, however, whose visionary period lasted six years (and unlike van Gogh, perhaps, who arrived in Arles in 1888 and shot himself three years later after one of the most intensely creative phases in the history of art)—Hitchcock has been able to sustain and develop his vision over a period of decades. This intuitive sense of another world, another time, occurs frequently in people's responses to Hitchcock's paintings. It's as though we retain a vague memory of a golden age, which is what his paintings could be said to evoke or revive. This golden age, perhaps, is our Dream Time, to borrow a phrase from the aborigines. Hitchcock himself says, "I've always had this feeling that the Golden Age exists. It's an era that is alive in everyone."

'Fishermen' 2004 32ins. x 44ins. Acrylic on board

His paintings are imprints, or transcriptions, of the early experience of sunlight in Thundersley. They are all, as he has said, about light.
"The rendering of light on the surface of things, particularly on trees, is the central theme in my work." It is light that functions as, in his words, 'the unifying effect.' "The subject matter is not incidental, but always luminosity is important."

"All aspects of the creative process," says his son Leonard,"such as composition, coloring and color balance, effects of light etc. come about in Harold's case through a highly developed sensitivity which enables him to feel what to do next in a rather spontaneous way...the subject matter of the paintings (the world which is depicted) also springs from Harold's inner feeling and can be said to be descriptive or symbolic of a spiritual life and feeling. Harold is a truly simple man in the sense that—unlike the vast majority of us—he has retained the child-like ability to avoid labeling or classifying the world more than is absolutely necessary. It is my belief that through the incessant activity of our minds we constantly 'name' the world around us and in so doing reduce it to a dead thing. It is in those moments when we lose our 'map' of the world that suddenly we are surrounded and immersed in something awesome and mysterious and very beautiful."

'The soul has an agent in the eye by reason of which the eye is so sensitive, delicate and fastidious that it does not receive things in the bulk, as they are, but first sifts them and makes them fine in the air and light and that happens because the eye has the soul in it.

'If the soul could have known God without the world, the world would never have been created. The world, therefore, was made for the soul's sake, so that the soul's eye might be practiced and strengthened to bear the divine light. The sunshine does not fall directly on the earth but is first damped by the air and diffused among things: otherwise the human eye could not endure it. So it is with the divine light, which is so overpowering and clear that the soul's eye could not bear it unless it were steadied by matter and supported by likenesses, so that it is led up to the divine light and accustomed to it.'
Meister Eckhardt

Paintings in Permanent Collections

V&A Museum, London
Hunterian Museum, Glasgow
Hannen and Stoers Museum [Reichs Museum], Holland
University Of Louisiana, USA
Lidice Museum, Czechoslovakia
Museum Of Fine Art, N.Carolina, USA
Yale Centre For British Arts, USA
University Library of Winston Salem, USA

Two books have been published on Harold and his work:

'Harold Hitchcock, A Romantic Symbol In Surrealism'
1974 ISBN: 0-8027-0697 5 Written by Ian Williamson and published by Walker and Company, New York

'Harold Hitchcock—Life In Light'
2000 ISBN: 0-9679504-0-6 Published by Phillips Publishing, Carmel, USA
In 1999 a 30 minute documentary film 'Life In Light' was made to accompany the book.

Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press