Nicholson, Ben

Nicholson, Ben

▪ British artist
born April 10, 1894, Denham, Buckinghamshire, England
died February 6, 1982, London

      English artist whose austere geometric paintings and reliefs were among the most influential abstract works in British art.

      The son of the painter Sir William Nicholson, he briefly attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1910–11, but he was largely self-taught. He traveled extensively in Europe between 1911 and 1914, and in 1917 he visited California, keeping a detailed record in sketches of architecture and landscape. About 1920 he began to paint seriously, creating still lifes and landscapes in a conventionally realistic style.

      During a trip to Paris in 1921, Nicholson saw Cubist (Cubism) works, which influenced his first semiabstract still lifes; in 1924 he executed his first completely abstract painting. During the 1920s, along with the sculptors Barbara Hepworth (Hepworth, Dame Barbara) (who became his second wife) and Henry Moore (Moore, Henry), Nicholson was instrumental in introducing Continental Modernism into English art. In 1933 he and Hepworth joined the Paris-based Abstraction-Création group, an artists' association that advocated purely abstract art. He also met the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (Mondrian, Piet), under whose influence Nicholson's work took on a greatly simplified geometry; typical of this period are his low reliefs of whitewashed circles and rectangles, such as White Relief (1937–38). He was coeditor with the artist Naum Gabo (Gabo, Naum) and the architect Sir Leslie Martin of Circle, a manifesto published in 1937 to promote Constructivism and other modern art styles in England.

      In the 1940s Nicholson returned to landscape and still-life themes, often painting simplified representations of still-life motifs within otherwise largely abstract compositions. In his later work he continued to shift between modes of abstraction and representation.

Additional Reading
Heavily illustrated volumes of Nicholson's works include Herbert E. Read, Ben Nicholson, 2 vol. (1955; 2nd ed. of vol. 1 [first published 1948]); and Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson (1991). Norbert Lynton, Ben Nicholson (1993), and Sarah Jane Checkland, Ben Nicholson: The Vicious Circles of His Life and Art (2000), are biographies.

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Universalium. 2010.

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