Ben Nicholson

Born: 1894

Ben NicholsonBen Nicholson

Ben Nicholson was one of the most influential and radical British artists of the twentieth century. Celebrated for his ability to synthesize and abstract from nature its bare essentials and re-form them in compositions of extreme elegance and clarity. For the most part Ben Nicholson's paintings and reliefs are geometrically organized, playing formal and austere lines against blocks of subdued colour, achieving a balance between line and suggested volume. Nicholson achieves this not only in his paintings, but as one of the greatest draughtsmen of the twentieth century, in his prints as well. Ben Nicholson's ability to translate his mastery of line to carved and etched media is second to none. Always retaining his interest in landscape, whether it be the clear, bright light of Cornwall or the sun baked structures of ancient worlds visited throughout Europe, they were probably instrumental in developing his sense of light, almost transparent colour, through which objects are filtered rather than merely described.

Born in Buckinghamshire, into an affluent artistic family, Ben Nicholson always knew he would be a painter. Following a short spell at the Slade School of Fine Art in 1910-11 Nicholson travelled extensively throughout Europe and then onto the USA.

In 1924 Ben Nicholson was elected a member of the Seven and Five Society of artists. Other modernist artists followed, including the sculpture Barbara Hepworth, who later in 1938 became his second wife.

By 1949, following heated arguments between the abstract and figurative artists within the St Ives Society, Hepworth and Nicholson resigned to set up their own breakaway group called the Penwith Society of Arts. In 1950 Ben Nicholson was finally selected to represent Britain in the 1954 Venice Biennale, alongside Bacon and Freud.

By 1956 Ben Nicholson was a truly established international artist, winning the Guggenheim International painting prize for 'August 1956' (Val d'Orcia).

In July 1957 Ben Nicholson married for the third time.  By the beginning of the following year Nicholson had packed up his pencils and paints and left Cornwall for good. The newlyweds set up home in Switzerland.

The 1960's saw Ben Nicholson's work exhibited throughout the world, with major Retrospectives in Germany, London and the USA.

Having declined most awards bestowed upon him, Ben Nicholson finally accepted the British Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth in 1968. By 1977 Nicholson had divorced his third wife and moved to London, where he continued to paint, from his studio in Chelsea until his death in 1982.

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