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Portrait of Ben Nicholson, by his mother Mabel Pryde

Ben Nicholson (April 10, 1894 - February 6, 1982) was an English painter and sculptor. He is known for his abstract still lifes and landscapes. His work was exhibited alongside that of Constantin Brancusi, Juan Miro, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso. He spent much of his life in England, but traveled to and lived for periods in California, Switzerland, Italy, and France.

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1921 - circa 1923 (Cortivallo, Lugano), Photo: © Tate, London 2013

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1928 (foothills, Cumberland), Photo: © Tate, London 2013

 

Nicholson's parents were both painters and was otherwise surrounded by artists and architects. He knew from a young age that he was going to be a painter. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1910-1914, alongside Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, and Edward Wadsworth.

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1924 (first abstract painting, Chelsea), Photo: © Tate, London 2013

 

 

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1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall), Photo: © Tate, London 2013

 

Nicholson suffered from asthma, so he was exempt from serving in World War I. Instead, he moved for a period to Pasadena, California to receive treatment for his illness.

Nicholson was married three times. During his marriage to Winifred Roberts, another painter, his work was heavily influenced by the cubists of the day. After meeting painter Christopher Wood in 1926, the two of them traveled along with Roberts to Cornwall, where they happened upon a local fisherman, Alfred Wallis, who was painting. Wallis' art appealed greatly to Nicholson because he felt it was more truthful than other art. Nicholson said, "his paintings were never paintings but actual events." Wallis went on to become hugely influential in British art, but despite the attention, sold few paintings and died penniless.

By 1933, Nicholson was remarried to Barbara Hepsworth, a sculptor. The two traveled around and met Georges Braque, Constantin Brancusi and Pablo Picasso. They were invited to join the artist group Abstraction-Creation.

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June 1937 (painting) Photo: © Tate, London, 2013

 

Soon after he began to create his series of low reliefs, White Relief, which contained only white circles and right angles.

After divorcing Hepsworth, Nicholson traveled around Europe and produced some of his most notable etchings including "Pisa" and "San Gimignano." He represented Britain in the Venice Biennale in 1954, and soon after produced "St. Ives from Trezion." In 1956, he won the Guggenheim International Award for "August 1956 (Val d'Orcia)."

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August 1956 (Val d'Orcia) Photo: © Tate, London, 2013

Norbert Lynton wrote of Nicholson in the 1950s, "Our attention is sought first by the play of lines that represent the still life, secondly by the supporting planes that were the table, and thirdly by the wider setting and its implications of space and location." The lines Lynton was referring to became increasingly more apparent in Nicholson's work throughout his life.

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circa 1936 (sculpture)  Photo: © Tate, London, 2013

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Foxy and Frankie (1), 1933 Photo: © Tate, London 2013

 

By 1961, Nicholson and his third wife, a German photographer by the name of Felicitas Vogler, moved to Switzerland. During the next decade, his work was exhibited throughout the world while he continued to create etchings with Swiss printer François Lafranca.

Nicholson received the British Order of Merit in 1968. He divorced Vogler in 1977. He moved to London and continued to paint until his death in 1982.

See more of Ben Nicholson's work at the Tate Gallery 

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Thursday, 10 April 2014
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