Ben Nicholson

St Ives Harbour (Summer) Aug 31 - 51

Oil and pencil on board: 14.5(h) x 18.1(w) in /

36.8(h) x 46(w) cm

Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: St Ives harbour (summer) aug 31 – 51/ Ben Nicholson / Nicholson/Chy an Kerris/Carbis Bay/Cornwall

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BL 14



Denham 1894 – 1982 London


St Ives Harbour (Summer) Aug 31 – 51


Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: St Ives harbour (summer) aug 31 – 51/ Ben Nicholson / Nicholson/Chy an Kerris/Carbis Bay/Cornwall

Oil and pencil on board: 14 ½ x 18 ⅛ in / 36.8 x 46 cm

Frame size: 20 ¼ x 22 ¾ in / 51.4 x 57.8 cm



Durlacher Gallery, New York

H. Marc Moyens, Washington DC

Sotheby’s London, 3rd April 1990, lot 56

Fujii Gallery, Tokyo, acquired from the above

Sotheby’s New York, 3rd November 1993, lot 56

Branco Weiss, acquired from the above, then by descent



London, The Lefevre Gallery, Ben Nicholson, May 1952, no. 10

New York, Durlacher Gallery, Ben Nicholson, Exhibition of paintings & reliefs, 18th November – 13th December 1952, no. 3

Washington DC, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The H. Marc Moyens Collection, A Selection of Paintings Drawings and Sculpture, 12th December 1969 – 18th January 1970, no. 50

Kendal, Cumbria, Abbott Hall Art Gallery, Taking Flight: St Ives in the 1950s, 26th June – 3rd October 2015



Nicholson’s radiant, oblique depiction of St Ives harbour painted in the summer of 1951 is viewed through the frame of an open window, an artistic device he often employed during the late 1920s along with other members of the Seven and Five Society. During this period he frequently drew and painted from the vantage point of windows overlooking Cornish villages and the surrounding countryside, often combining the two media. As well as framing the scene below, the open window, or more specifically the window ledge, allowed for the inclusion of a

still life group in the foreground which appears to dissolve into the linear rooftops beyond. The pencil outline of a handle suggests the presence of a transparent mug, as well as painted

fragments which could signify the overlapping of a goblet and carafe. Above this intricate grouping the undulating curves of the harbour appear, echoing the overlapping rhythms of the

objects below and creating a tension between exterior and interior. Nicholson referred to this type of image as his ‘still lifelandscape’ development which enabled him to unite objects in

the foreground with those in the background in a semi-abstract, post-cubist style. The intricate balance of drawn and painted elements, still life and landscape subject, as well as abstract

and more representational viewpoints, make this a fascinating image indicative of the strides Nicholson made in his Post-War development.


Both Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth found boundless inspiration in the Cornish landscape, which had an immediate and ongoing effect on Nicholson’s palette: ‘The impact of the

landscape on Nicholson’s work was considerable. After his move to Cornwall he ceased to make white reliefs, which could be interpreted as an urban art, and reintroduced subdued colours as well as brighter tones which appear to be derived from his surroundings’.[1] The dazzling blue swathes of paint representing water and sky alongside areas of lush green, blush and terracotta in the present work are unmistakably inspired by the brilliant Cornish light and landscape at the height of summer. The vantage point across St Ives harbour would appear to suggest a view from near to Trezion, a house and studio which Nicholson moved to from Chy an Kerris in 1955 (following his divorce from Hepworth in February 1951) and later re-named Goonhilly. Nicholson described the view in a letter to Herbert Read on 24th February 1955: ‘It’s an absurd place…v. romantic…& with a whole series of different levels from which one sees between rooftops the Atlantic, the Island, St Ives Bay, Godrevy and finally from the top-most “lookout” level slap down into the harbour itself – in the foreground a chapel roof rounded at the nearest end to my terrace’.[2]


1951, the year this work was painted, also marked the Festival of Britain, for which Nicholson was commissioned to paint a mural for the South Bank restaurant.



Ben Nicholson, 15 July 1949 (St Ives harbour)

Oil and pencil on canvas: 13 7/8 x 15 7/8 in

Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection




Denham 1894 – 1982 London



Ben Nicholson was born in Denham, Buckinghamshire in 1894, the eldest of four children of artists Sir William Nicholson and his first wife Mabel Pryde. He spent his early education at Heddon Court, Hampstead and Gresham’s School, Holt before studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1910–11, where he met and befriended Paul Nash. Following graduation, Nicholson spent time in France and Italy before living in Pasadena, California for health reasons between 1917–18. He was declared unfit for active service during the First World War due to his asthma. In 1920 Nicholson married the artist Winifred Roberts and they subsequently divided their time between London, Cumberland and Switzerland, often visiting Paris on the way. Having experienced Cubism first hand, he produced his first abstract paintings in 1924. That same year he held his first solo exhibition at the Twenty-One Gallery, London and was invited to become a member of the Seven and Five Society.


Accompanied by the artist Christopher Wood, Nicholson visited St Ives, Cornwall for the first time in August 1928, where they discovered the painter Alfred Wallis who would become an important influence on them both. In 1931 he met the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and within a year began sharing a studio with her in Hampstead. Together they held a joint exhibition at Tooth’s Gallery, London in 1932. Nicholson would go on to marry Hepworth after his divorce from Winifred Nicholson was finalised in 1938. From 1933 Nicholson became a member of Unit One and was invited, together with Hepworth, to join the group Abstraction-Création. He began making abstract reliefs in 1933 and a series of white painted reliefs the following year which would establish his international reputation. Winifred’s move to Paris in 1932 with their children meant that Nicholson visited often, enabling him to establish links with other artists there, including Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Jean Arp. In 1934 he met Piet Mondrian and played an active role in his move to Hampstead in 1938. Nicholson co-edited the publication Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art with the sculptor Naum Gabo and the architect Sir Leslie Martin in 1937.


In 1939 Nicholson and Hepworth relocated with the triplets (born in 1934) to Cornwall where he resumed painting landscapes and coloured abstract reliefs. His international reputation grew during the 1950s as a result of a series of large still lifes for which he received several important prizes. In 1954 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale (alongside Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon) and was awarded the Ullisse prize. The following year the Tate Gallery held the first of two retrospectives of his work, the second being shown in 1969. In 1958 he moved to Switzerland with his third wife Felicitas Vogler (Hepworth and Nicholson having divorced in 1951) where he began to concentrate once more on abstract reliefs including a large wall relief made in 1964 for the Documenta III exhibition in Kassel, Germany. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1968. Nicholson returned to England in 1971, living until 1974 in Cambridge and then in Hampstead where he remained until his death in 1982.

[1] Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, Rizzoli, New York, 1991, pp. 19–20.

[2] The artist cited in J. Lewison, Ben Nicholson, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1993, p. 228.

Post War BritishBen Nicholson