Ben Nicholson


Ben Nicholson was born in 1894 to Sir William Nicholson and Mabel Pride, also artists. He trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1910, meeting Paul Nash, with whom he formed a close friendship with. In 1920 he married Winifred Roberts - a colourist, with whom he moved to Cumberland. The two painted still-lifes and landscapes, spending summers in Cumberland and winters near lake Lugano in Switzerland. Ben split up with Winifred in 1931, and met Barbara Hepworth, who he later married.

Ben was strongly influenced by the post expressionist, neo-plastic, and the cubist movements, and took a position as the Chair of the Seven and Five society – changing its direction from a group comprising of traditional tastes to that of an entirely modern output. As an abstract artist, he took influence from Hepworth and Henry More, showing the first entirely abstract exhibition in Britain, taking the forefront in modern British abstract art. He incorporated many constructivist principles in his own work, also being the one of the editors of the Circle – an influential constructivist magazine. However, he never fully atrophied in figurative painting for the sake of his abstract composition.

Given the presence of Alfred Wallis and other prominent painters, Nicholson enjoyed spending time in St Ives, and lived there from 1939 – 1957, joining the St Ives society of Artists in 1943. He then married the German Photographer Felicitas Vogler in 1957, moving back to Switzerland with her. Separating in 1971, after which he moved to back to England, dying in 1982.

During his life Nicholson was awarded the 1st prize at Carnegie international in 1952, the Guggenheim International painting prize in 1956, and the international prize for painting at the Sao Paulo Bienal 1957, and the Order of Merit in 1968. Described as the quintessence of British modernism by Herbert Read, Nicholson is representative of 20th century British abstract and still life. His works are open to public view in the Tate Gallery, Tate St Ives, Kettle’s Yard Art Gallery, the Hepworth Wakefield, and Pallant House Gallery.

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