Ben Nicholson was a British painter and sculptor whose Cubist-influenced works contributed to the history of abstraction. Known for his distillation of visual information into pared-down geometric shapes, the artist represents a melding of British sensibility with European modernism.

“The kind of painting which I find exciting is not necessarily representational or non-representational, but it is musical and architectural,” he once mused. “Whether this visual relationship is slightly more or slightly less abstract is, for me, beside the point.”

Born on April 10, 1894 in Denham, United Kingdom to the painters William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde. Nicholson’s earliest works were naturalistic landscapes and still lifes influenced by his father’s work.

After visiting the studios of Georges Braque, Constantin Brancusi, and Piet Mondrian in Paris, Nicholson’s work grew increasingly concerned with formal structure. During the late 1920s, Nicholson and his second wife the painter Winifred Nicholson lived in the town of St. Ives, where they worked alongside the painter Christopher Wood, and where influenced by the local fisherman and naive artist Alfred Wallis. In the 1930s, he began making works which melded sculpture, architecture, and design elements into simple forms. Over time, Nicholson’s style would loosen from the severe formalism of the 1930s, becoming a synthesis of observed visual information and linear abstraction.

He won the prestigious Carnegie Prize in 1952, and in 1968 received the British Order of Merit. The artist died on February 6, 1982 in Hampstead, United Kingdom. Today, his works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others.

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