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Artists Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson Photo

Ben Nicholson

British Abstract and still-life painter

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, St. Ives Group

Born: April 10, 1894 - Denham, Buckinghamshire, England

Died: February 6, 1982 - London, England

Ben Nicholson Timeline

"'Realism' has been abandoned in the search for reality: the 'principal objective' of abstract art is precisely this reality."

Summary

One single work by Ben Nicholson can, at best, encompass architectural, sculptural, and painterly qualities, all the while retaining a powerful overarching worldview fueled by innocence, romance, and simplicity. Nicholson's career was long and impressive and can be divided into many phases. Even though early works appear naïve and childlike, he always experimented with pioneering theoretical and formal ways of making a picture. He initially favored still life and landscape compositions painted in a poetic and naturalistic style. From the early 1930s onwards however, his work began to develop in a more modernist direction, and he embraced working under the influence of late Cubism and abstraction. Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Barbara Hepworth all in turn had profound impact on the vision and style of Ben Nicholson. Throughout his career, there is an undiminished sense of a humble task at hand: that of honoring the beauty of landscape and life lived within it using a harmonious combination of color, line, and shape.

Key Ideas

Nicholson is set apart from many of the fellow English painters of his generation because of his continuing interest in and understanding of Cubist painting. No other English painter exploited the technical aspects of Braque and Picasso's work to the extent that Nicholson did. Although always interested in Cubism (recording the moment of acute influence felt in 1921 when he saw his first Picasso), it was during the early 1930s - having spent time in the studios of Picasso, Braque, Hans Arp, and Constantin Brâncuşi - that the interest became Nicholson's commitment and main focus.
Despite starting his career during a time of war and social struggle, unlike some artists working prior to WWI, Nicholson did not focus on politics. His main focus was art and he reintroduced the shunned genres of still life and landscape painting back into the limelight. Even the artist's early work points towards the fact that the history of English painting in the twenties is a history of the further development of the technical autonomy of a painting. Indeed, Nicholson's tastes were always closer to those of Roger Fry and the Bloomsbury Group than they were to Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism, calling quite simply for an "innocent" response to form and color.
Furthermore, unlike his friend and colleague, Paul Nash, who always retained a relatively traditional perspective and vanishing point when painting a landscape, Nicholson was more concerned with shape and surface. Indeed, he produced a sense of depth through his original use of analogy, tone, and color. As such, his style is more aligned to the work of Paul Cézanne and to other pioneers in France, therefore successfully setting the basis for abstract art in England during the 1930s.
Alongside Barbara Hepworth, Nicholson formed the nucleus of the St Ives School, a name that mistakenly makes a very international cohort of artists sound local. Incorporating also the work of exiles Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, and inspired by the likes of Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, and Arp, the group based their principles on the notion of freedom, freedom of letting art be made in any form (as a mobile or relief, not only a traditional sculpture) and also a freedom from political and social oppression.
Ben Nicholson Photo

Ben Nicholson was born on April 10, 1894, in Denham, Buckinghamshire, to a family with art at its heart. His father, Sir William Nicholson, was an eminent portraitist and still life painter, while his mother Mabel also came from a family of artists and studied at art school. He had three siblings: Anthony, Nancy (an artist) and Christopher (an architect).

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Ben Nicholson
Interactive chart with Ben Nicholson's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Henri RousseauHenri Rousseau
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Paul NashPaul Nash

Personal Contacts

William Nicholson
Barbara HepworthBarbara Hepworth
Winifred Nicholson
Alfred Wallis
Christopher WoodChristopher Wood

Movements

VorticismVorticism
FauvismFauvism
CubismCubism
Primitivism in ArtPrimitivism in Art
Folk ArtFolk Art

Influences on Artist
Ben Nicholson
Ben Nicholson
Years Worked: 1910 - 1982
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Peter Lanyon
Patrick Heron
Terry Frost
John Wells
John Piper

Personal Contacts

Barbara HepworthBarbara Hepworth
Winifred Nicholson
Paul NashPaul Nash

Movements

St. Ives GroupSt. Ives Group

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Anna Souter

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anna Souter
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie
Available from:
First published on 15 Apr 2019. Updated and modified regularly.
[Accessed ]