Ben Nicholson was the son of the painters Sir William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde, Ben and his siblings all went on to become artists themselves. His first training as an artist began in London at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he was a contemporary of Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, and Edward Wadsworth.
His first notable work was following a meeting with the playwright J. M. Barrie on holiday in Rustington, Sussex. As a result of this meeting, Barrie used a drawing by Nicholson as the base for a poster for the play Peter Pan; his father William designed some of the sets and costumes.
From 1920 to 1933, he was married to the painter Winifred Nicholson and lived in London. After Nicholson’s first exhibition of figurative works in London in 1922, his work began to be influenced by Synthetic Cubism, and later by the primitive style of Rousseau. In London, Nicholson met the sculptors Barbara Hepworth (to whom he later married for over 10 years) and Henry Moore.
On visits to Paris (with Hepworth) he met Mondrian, whose work in the neoplastic style was to influence him in an abstract direction, and Picasso, whose cubism would also find its way into his work. His gift, however, was the ability to incorporate these European trends into a new style that was recognizably his own. He believed that abstract art should be enjoyed by the general public, as shown by the Nicholson Wall, a mural he created for the garden of Sutton Place in Guildford, Surrey. In 1943 he joined the St. Ives Society of Artists.
It was in 1954 that both the Tate gallery and The Venice Biennale held major retrospectives of his work, establishing him as not only a very popular but also as an academic artist. Nicholson was awarded the first Guggenheim International painting prize in 1956 and the following year he won the prize for painting at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1957.
Along with Naum Gabo and Sir Leslie Martin, Nicholson edited the first monograph on constructivist art which was entitled, ‘CIRCLE’. This monograph laid down the ideas and guidelines behind the modernist movement, which had a major impact on art-historical thinking.