January 27, 2009

Ben Nicholson (1894–1982)



Ben Nicholson: Artist (1894-1982)


Ben Nicholson by Humphrey Spender

Ben Nicholson by Humphrey Spender


Introduction

I have been excited that on of Britain's most important 20th painters Ben Nicholson has got a retrospective exhibition. "A Continuous Line" has opened earlier this month at the Tate St. Ives - a gallery I love.  The exhibition continues until the first week of May and offers an excellent opportunity to develop ones knowledge and ideas about the enormously influential St. Ives artists. Take a drive into the surrounding countryside afterwards to discover what influenced the abstract landscapes.


Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson was born in 1894, in Eight Bells, Denham, Buckinghamshire, England. Ben Nicholson's father was the artist William Nicholson, and his mother was the Scottish painter Mabel Pryde. He studied, for a short time, at the Slade School 1910-11. His first solo show was held at the Adelphi Gallery in London in 1922. Nicholson spent several years in Cumbria with his first wife, the painter Winifred Nicholson. The couple bought in 1923 Banks Head, a 17th-century farmhouse built over a mile castle on Hadrian's Wall. In 1939 he moved to Cornwall:

"Despite the geographical distance between Cornwall and Cumberland, both locations shared certain characteristics that were attractive to Nicholson at this time, to his taste and disposition and to the development of his painting...Both possessed a distinct quality of remoteness, an important sense of distance, far from the excessively cultivated and commercial metropolitan centre and from the predictably picturesque 'guidebook' imagery of the countryside popular in the years following the end of the Great War." (Ysanne Holt catalogue essay 2008)


Nicholson Coldfell 1922

Ben Nicholson: Coldfell (1922). Painted during his time in Cumbria with Winifred


From the early 1930s his work became increasingly abstract, geometrical and austere. In 1937 he was editor of Circle An International Survey of Constructivist Art.   From 1939 to 1958 lived in Cornwall. In 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Nicholson and his family moved from London to St. Ives where they stayed initially with Adrian Stokes in Little Park Owles in Carbis Bay. Nicholson became a mentor and advocate for many of the younger artists living in the area, particularly Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost and John Wells. In 1943 he joined the St. Ives Society of Artists. He left it to found the Penwith Society in 1949, with Herbert Read as president.

Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth


Ben Nicholson & Barbara Hepworth

It wasn't until the 1950s that Nicholson won international attention. In 1952 he took first prize at the Carnegie International Art Exhibition in Pittsburgh. In 1954 he won the Ulissi Prize at the Venice Biennale. The next year he won the Governor of Tokyo's Award and was honored by the Belgian Art Critics in Paris. In 1956 he won the Guggenheim International Award.

In 1968 he received the British Order of Merit (OM).


Nicholson was married three times: firstly to Winnifred Roberts (married 5 November 1920 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London; divorced 1938) with whom he had two children, a daughter Kate in July 1929 (who later became an artist herself) and a son Andrew in September 1931. His second marriage was to fellow artist Barbara Hepworth (married 17 November 1938 at Hampstead Register Office; divorced 1951) with whom he had a son Simon in 1934 and third to Felicitas Vogler, a German photographer (married July 1957; divorced 1977).

Nicholson Painted Relief

Nicholson Painted Relief: Scottish National Gallery


The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art owns a fine collection of paintings and prints by Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), one of the leading British artists of the twentieth century. That collection has now improved and expanded dramatically, thanks to an extraordinary bequest made by Felicitas Vogler, Nicholson's third wife. Vogler was a celebrated photographer, holding a major exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in 2006. Following her death later that year, she left the Gallery a superb collection of Nicholson's work, including ten paintings and carved reliefs and twenty prints and drawings. These works now join the works already belonging to the Gallery to form an outstanding collection of Nicholson's art, ranging from the early 1920s to the 1980s. The whole collection is on show in this new display, occupying the top floor of the Dean Gallery.

Nicholson Green Goblet blue square

Nicholson: Green Goblet Blue Square (1961). One of earliest paintings after moving to Switzerland


Ben Nicholson Retrospective Exhibition Tour


Abbot Hall is the opening venue of the first major exhibition of Ben Nicholson in the UK for over fourteen years. Curated by Chris Stephens, Head of Displays at Tate Britain and a leading expert on the art of St Ives from the 1940s-60s, the show focuses on the artist’s years in Britain from 1922 to 1958. This new exhibition highlights those periods that earlier exhibitions have marginalised and reveals a view of Ben Nicholson quite different from the established one.

The exhibition looks at the landscapes of the 1920s, including works painted in Cumberland where he lived with his first wife, Winifred. It includes his time in St Ives, Cornwall during World War II, when his abstract and landscape works became central to the establishment of the modernist art community, alongside his second wife, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The final section of the show focuses on the Cubist still-lifes made by Nicholson between 1945 and 1958.

nicholson Still Life 1945


Nicholson: Still Life 1945 in the Continuous Line Exhibition


This project has evolved through a unique collaboration between Abbot Hall, De La Warr Pavillion ,Tate St Ives and draws on the Tate collection and the Ben Nicholson archive, as well as loans from major public institutions in the UK. Many of Nicholson’s finest works are still in private collections, and a number of these rarely seen pieces are included. There will not be a London venue. One of the central ideas behind the project is to link the works to be shown in a different context where each of the venues has a particular relevance.


Webliography


Ben Nicholson at Kettle's Yard Cambridge


Guardian 2008: Another Look at Ben Nicholson


Abbot Hall: Nicholson Retrospective


Independent review of the retrospective


Tate Collection of Ben Nicholson


Further Reading


Norbert Lynton: Ben Nicholson, Phaidon Press

Chris Stephenson: Ben Nicholson, Tate Publishing

Peter Khoroche: Ben Nicholson, Drawings and Painted Reliefs, Lund Humphries


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