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.

  • 1965 (Olympia)

    by Ben Nicholson

    MEDIUM: Ink and oil wash on paper, shaped, on the artist's prepared board SIGNATURE: Signed 'Nicholson' (on the reverse); signed again and dated 'NICHOLSON 1965' (on the backboard) DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 22.8 x 19.8 ins/ 57.9 x 50.3 cm Pieces such as Olympia, take the concept of still life to its bare bones, and present a profound and timeless commentary on the tradition itself. By the early 1950’s, colour was beginning to play a much less crucial role in Nicholson’s art as the paintings regained the aesthetic purity of his earlier abstract work. Meanwhile, Nicholson’s unique ability to give the illusion of form with so few lines, reinforces the status of the paintings themselves as physical objects.
  • Red and Black Mug or cup, 1981

    by Ben Nicholson

    DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 4.8 x 4.0 inches/ 12.2 x 10.2 cms SIGNATURE:  Signed and inscribed "for Pat and David Xmas 81 Nicholson 81" on the reverse MEDIUM: Ink, wash and gouache on paper This striking work by Ben Nicholson was a gift to Barbara Hepworth’s assistant, David Lewis, for the Christmas of 1981.  
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