Ben Nicholson

Aug 63 (metallic)

Oil and pencil on board: 17.2(h) x 19.8(w) in /

43.8(h) x 50.2(w) cm

Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: Ben Nicholson / aug 63 / (metallic)

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SP 5354

 

BEN NICHOLSON OM

Denham 1894 – 1982 London

 

Aug 63 (metallic)

 

Signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: Ben Nicholson/aug 63/(metallic). Further inscribed on the reverse: prego/spedire à/Dr A W Bechtler /Zollikon/Seestrasse 16/(Zürigo)

Oil and pencil on carved board relief:

17 ¼ x 19 ¾ in / 43.8 x 50.2 cm

Frame size: 18 ⅞ x 21 ¼ in / 48 x 54 cm

 

Provenance:

Dr A.W. Bechtler, Zurich, directly from the artist, then by descent

 

 

Aug 63 (metallic) is a delicately balanced, finely wrought masterwork of tonal harmony and spatial ambiguity, demonstrating the depth and refinement Nicholson achieved in his painted reliefs of the 1960s. At first glance it appears that the artist has constructed the composition by layering luminous sheets of burnished metal, evoked in the subtitle, at irregular angles to create an animated asymmetric design within the confines of a rectangle. Looking more closely at the edges of the compact, central form reveals that each quadrilateral has been carved out of a single piece of board to various, if shallow, depths. The gently slanting, bright, overlapping edges

accentuate the tightly interlocking elements and suggest a subtle sense of movement, reinforced by the placement of a drawn circle close to the left side of the shifting rhomboid. The pale, naturalistic tones of earth and stone are characteristic of Nicholson’s reliefs at this time, their complex surfaces, painted, scrubbed and scored to produce a weathered effect redolent of the passage of time and erosion. The artist’s use of wood and board and his rigorous working of the surface texture, as if the colour were naturally occurring rather than painstakingly applied, underline Nicholson’s belief in the interconnectedness of colour and form: ‘In a painting it should be as impossible to separate form from colour or colour from form as it is to separate wood from wood-colour or stone-colour from stone. Colour exists not as applied paint but as the inner core of an idea and this idea cannot be touched physically any more than one can touch the blue of a summer sky.’[1]

 

The jagged planes of the surrounding mountains visible from Nicholson’s house above Lake Maggiore, Switzerland, certainly influenced the arrangement, forms and colouration of his reliefs

at this time. Nicholson and his third wife, the German photographer Felicitas Vogler, left St Ives for Ticino, Switzerland in March 1958, having married in London during the summer of the

previous year. In April 1961, they moved into Casa alla Rocca, Gadero above Brissago on Lake Maggiore, a house Nicholson commissioned and helped to design with the young architect

Ello Katzenstein. The artist described the impact of this landscape to Herbert Read, emphasising colours key to his favourite season, winter, in Ticino: ‘This landscape is a knock out now, a

marvellous whitish brown & plenty of snow on the mountains opposite which have a hard, clear, rounded form & a superb snow white on their tops against a blue such as I’ve never seen before & this morning a wisp of transparent golden crescent moon got up over the mountain immediately opposite.’[2]

 

Nicholson made his first relief in Paris in 1933 and later recounted to Herbert Read that he had stumbled upon the idea when a small piece of gesso fell out of a prepared board he was working on and inspired him to carve it further: ‘mine came about by accident & bec. of Barbara’s sculptor’s tools lying around.’[3] Nicholson was already involved in scraping and incising his work in the late 1920s, in addition to carving lino blocks, and was aware of Adrian Stokes’ promotion of relief carving in books such as Stones of Rimini, 1934 (for which Nicholson designed the cover). His development towards direct carving can also be seen as a natural progression of his interest

in overlapping planes and their spatial relationships stimulated by his experience of Cubism.

 

 

 

Ben Nicholson, March 1963 (Archimedes)

Oil on paper on board: 54 x 46 cm

National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

 

BEN NICHOLSON OM

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] The artist cited in Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1993, p. 233.

[2] The artist, letter dated 28th December 1959, cited in J. Lewison, Ben Nicholson, ibid., p. 90.

[3] Peter Khoroche, Ben Nicholson: Drawings and Painted Reliefs, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2002, p. 35.

Post War BritishBen Nicholson