20th Century Artists


Ben Nicholson

Nicholson was born in Denham, Buckinghamshire, and was the son of the artists William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde.  He studied at the Slade School of Art, 1910-11.  He married the artist Winifred Roberts in 1920 but later divorced her to marry Barbara Hepworth.  Nicholson lived in London from 1932 to 1939, making several trips to Paris in 1932-3, visiting the studios of Picasso, Braque, Arp, Brancusi and Mondrian. From 1939 to 1958 he lived and worked in Cornwall, before moving to Switzerland.  He returned to London in 1974.

Ben Nicholson produced his first geometric and abstract reliefs in 1933. He first exhibited in 1919, at the Grosvenor Gallery and Grafton Galleries. His first one-man show was held at the Twenty-one Gallery, London in 1924. From 1924 to 1935 he was a member of the Seven and Five Society, and in 1933 he joined Unit One, founded by Paul Nash. In 1937 Nicholson, Naum Gabo and the architect Leslie Martin edited Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art. Circle identified Nicholson with a group of like-minded artists and architects who wanted to apply 'constructivist' principles to public and private art, advocating mathematical precision, clean lines and an absence of ornament.

In 1939 Nicholson moved to St. Ives, with his second wife Barbara Hepworth, where a community of artists, including John Piper and Gabo was developing. They stayed in Cornwall until 1958 and Ben Nicholson entered a period of painting landscapes and coloured abstract reliefs, and then went on to linear abstract paintings.

Ben Nicholson’s work was internationally acclaimed and won first prize at the Carnegie International (1952), Pittsburgh. He was given retrospectives at the Venice Biennale (1954), and at the Tate Gallery, London and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1955).

He was awarded the first Guggenheim International painting prize (1956), and the international prize for painting at the Sao Paulo Biennale (1957).

He received the Order of Merit in 1968. Numerous retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held, including shows at the Venice Biennale and Tate Gallery in 1954-5, Kunsthalle, Berne in 1961, Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas in 1964, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo in 1978, and Tate Gallery in 1993-4. With Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson is seen as the quintessence of British modernism.

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