Ben Nicholson, artist

Ben Nicholson, artist

Ben Nicholson (April 10, 1894 - February 6, 1982), celebrated British abstract painter, was born in Denham, Buckinghamshire. Both his parents were painters. His father was the painter Sir William Nicholson. The family moved to London in 1896. Ben Nicholson attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1910–11. Following that between 1911 and 1914 he traveled in Europe, including Madeira for reasons of health (suffered from asthma). During the First World War he was exempted from military service owing to ill health.

He travelled to New York in 1917 for an operation on his tonsils. He returned to England in 1918. From 1920 to 1938 he was married to the painter Winifred Nicholson by whom he had three children: Jake (1927), Kate (1929) and Andrew (1931). They lived in Cumberland and London with winters in Castagnola and Switzerland 1920-24.

The Adelphi Gallery in London held his first solo exhibition in 1922. And soon after that he began to paint abstract paintings influenced by Synthetic Cubism. By 1927, inspired by Henri Rousseau and early English folk art, he had evolved a primitive style.

In London, Nicholson met the sculptors Barbara Hepworth (to whom he was married from 1938 to 1951) and Henry Moore. He met Mondrian, whose abstract, neoplastic style, and Picasso, whose cubism, both influenced his work. He incorporated these European trends into a new style that was his own.

He first visited St. Ives, Cornwall in 1928, where he met the fisherman and painter Alfred Wallis.

In Paris in 1933 he made his first wood relief, White Relief, which contained only right angles and circles. These White Relief paintings from 1933-1938 an important new style in abstract art. His reliefs from this period were amongst his greatest works.

In 1934, together with Naum Gabo and Sir Leslie Martin, he became one of the editors of CIRCLE, one of the founding documents of modern art. He was also a member of the artists' group Unit One.

In 1939 Nicholson moved to St. Ives, with his wife Barbara Hepworth, where a community of artists, including John Piper, was developing. The Nicholsons stayed with Adrian Stokes in Carbis Bay, before moving to their own house. Gabo also moved to Cornwall at that time. He then lived in Cornwall until 1958. Nicholson entered a period of painting landscapes and coloured abstract reliefs, and then went on to linear abstract paintings.

He spent the war years, 1939 to 1945 making small abstract and figurative works, often depicting of Cornish scene. In 1943 he joined the St. Ives Society of Artists. In 1945 he changed from abstract reliefs to still lifes and abstract paintings based on still life.

1949 Ben Nicholson was a founder member of the Penwith Society of Arts. Nicholson exhibited regularly with the society until he left Cornwall in 1957.

In 1950 he started making regular trips various Mediterranean countries where he made drawings of architecture and landscape.

1951 Nicholson and Hepworth divorced.

1952 Awarded first prize for painting at the 39th International Exhibition (Carnegie International). First retrospective outside the UK held at the Detroit Institute of Arts Centre, Minneapolis. Commissioned to paint a mural for the Time Life building on New Bond Street, London.

He was given retrospectives at the Venice Biennale in 1954, and at the Tate Gallery, London, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 1955.

Nicholson married the photographer Felicitas Vogler in 1957 and moved to Castagnola, Ticino, Switzerland, in 1958 and began to concentrate once more on painted reliefs. and in 1968 was awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth.

In 1971 he separated from Vogler and moved to Cambridge. In 1977 they divorced.

Ben Nicholson died on February 6, 1982, in London.He died in London and was cremated at Golders Green cemetery.

Some of Nicholson's works can be seen at the Tate St Ives gallery, and at Kettle's Yard Art Gallery in Cambridge.

Tate Nicholson Collection

Books on Ben Nicholson

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