My Favourite Painting: John Brookes

The late garden designer John Brookes chooses a work inspired by the beautiful Sussex countryside.

October Earth, 1977, by John Hitchens (b.1940), 20in by 60in, private collection

October Earth, 1977, by John Hitchens (b.1940), 20in by 60in, private collection

John Brookes:

This work is influenced by the landscape of the South Downs. As I went into the Moncrieff-Bray Gallery, near Petworth in West Sussex, it hit me between the eyes.

I have always appreciated the works of John Hitchens. Like his father’s [Ivon Hitchens], John’s pictures of Sussex landscapes are bold and colourful, allowing the imagination to roam between abstraction and figuration. I had to have this painting and have not regretted its purchase. It has pride of place in my collection ’

John Brookes, who died on March 16, was a garden designer and author of more than 25 books. His memoir, ‘A Landscape Legacy’, was recently published by Pimpernel.

Gwendolyn van Paassc

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John McEwen comments on October Earth:

‘Landscape is the original source of my paintings,’ John Hitchens has stated. Sometimes this is specifically so, as here. He explains: ‘This came near the end of a long series of paintings done looking out from the top of Duncton Hill, near Petworth. The woodland on the hillside had been cut, allowing me a place to set up my easel and view the wide expanse of the lowland woodland fields (including Blackdown Hill and the far Surrey hills).

‘In time, the vistas of wide cloud effects on the land narrowed to just a portion of the view. This included the woods of my family home and the nearby farm – which formed the subject of October Earth.

‘This gave me more scope to include the landscape to the top of the canvas. This then lead onto the next few years of painting work actually inside the woods, with continued greater freedom of brush work.’

The Hitchens family are an art dynasty. John’s grandfather was a painter and his father was Ivon Hitchens (1893–1979). After his birth, the family moved from London and set up home in a caravan in a wood near Petworth.

A house grew to replace the caravan and is today John’s studio. The dynasty continues. His son Simon is a sculptor and his daughter-in-law Sarah a ceramicist.

John’s mother was an accomplished pianist and his father always regarded painting as most analogous to music. The American composer Peter Dayton has written a piano piece inspired by John’s painting From Sombre Lands of 2001. The large orchestral version (2016) is available online (we’ve embedded the Youtube video below); the piano version at ; and the orchestral version CD is available from Ablaze Records.