Ben Nicholson 1894-1982

Provenance

Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Marlborough Fine Art, London, by 1966
Crane Kalman, London
Sir Dirk Bogarde, July 1968
Crane Kalman, London
Acquired from the above on 22 January 1988 by Stanley J. Seeger
Sold Sotheby’s, London, The Eye of a Collector – Works from the Collection of Stanley J. Seeger, June 14 2001, lot 60, where acquired by current owner

Exhibitions

London, Arthur Tooth and Sons, Carvings by Barbara Hepworth, Paintings by Ben Nicholson, 1932, n. 13
Glasgow, Royal Institute of Fine Art, 88th Annual Exhibition, 1949, n. 503
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Arp, Bissier, Nicholson, Tobey, 1963, n. 8
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Art in Britain 1930-40 Centered around Axis, Circle, Unit One, 1965, n. 116, illus.
Coventry, Herbert Art Gallery, Metamorphosis – Figure into Abstract (The Sir Alfred Herbert Centenary Exhibition), 1966, n. 39
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Ben Nicholson, 1968, n. 8, illus.
London, Crane Kalman Gallery, Ben Nicholson – Early Works, 1968, n. 16, illus.
Mendrisio, Museo d’Art, Ben Nicholson: Pere dal 1921al 1981, 1993, p. 53, illus.
London, The London Jewish Museum of Art, Ben Uri Gallery, Making Waves, Modern British Masterpieces from a European Trust, 12 May-22 June 2003, pl. 8, p. 35
London, Tate Britain, Barbara Hepworth 24 June - 20 September 2015

Literature

Herbert Read, Ben Nicholson – Paintings, Reliefs and Drawings, London, 1948, illus.
Dirk Bogarde, A Particular Friendship, 1990, p. 138
Norbert Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 97, pl. 85
Ben Nicholson was one of the foremost British painters of the twentieth century. Born with a strong artistic pedigree, he began painting still lifes and landscapes influenced by his father, the painter William Nicholson, before attending the Slade School of Art, 1910-11. Consistently international in his outlook, he travelled widely to Europe and the United States, sustaining ties with the studio culture of Paris throughout his career and eventually creating work deeply imbricated in the style and philosophy of his cubist contemporaries. But Nicholson stood apart as an independent exponent of a uniquely English conception of modernity. During 1933, in close dialogue with the French abstractionist Jean Helion, he painted his first geometric abstract reliefs, one of the most important contributions to inter-war modernism in Europe (now represented in collections at MoMA, Tate, and the British Council). He quickly rose to unparalleled prominence within English networks as part of Unit One, the abstract group founded by Paul Nash, and the Seven and Five Society, consolidating his place at the core of avant-garde intellectual and cultural communities around Hampstead. At the beginning of the Second World War, Nicholson moved to St Ives with his family having first visited the town with Christopher Wood over a decade earlier. During his late career Nicholson received recognition as an artist of international significance. He won first prize at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh in 1952 and the inaugural Guggenheim International painting prize in 1956. The international prize for painting at the Sao Paulo Bienal followed in 1957 and he received the Order of Merit in 1968.

The present work represents a remarkable period as Nicholson dwells on the threshold of total abstraction amid increasingly bold experimentation. He combines the use of everyday objects and text (Bocquet is the brand name of a mustard made in Yvetot, Normandy), reflecting his interest in cubism, with the use of planks as a support, an idea initially explored in the painted boxes of 1928-1930. In 1926, Nicholson had met Alfred Wallis the self-taught painter-fisherman in St Ives. Inspired by Wallis’s naïve interpretation of his subject and use of found household materials, 1932 (Still Life Bocquet) demonstrates the artist’s sustained interest in Cornish craft tradition, which in turn shape his contemporaneous geometric reliefs. This context situates this unsual and important work at a crossroads between the artist’s diverse interests, between his awareness of European art and his sensitivity to his English heritage, central to any understanding of his oeuvre.