Pallant House Gallery is currently hosting a major exhibition of the celebrated Modern British artist Ben Nicholson OM (1894 –1982).
The exhibition explores the importance of still life and the studio within Nicholson’s art– from early highly-finished paintings to abstract reliefs that secured his international reputation. On show, are over 40 paintings, carved reliefs and works on paper, alongside the still life objects that inspired them, including his distinctive striped jugs, mocha-ware mugs and glassware. These objects were a vital presence in the numerous studios Nicholson inhabited during his life and were of central importance in many of his works.
During a career spanning six decades, Nicholson used the humble still life as a vehicle for experimentation and at the same time reinvigorated the genre within modern art.
We are shown the impact of the personal and artistic relationships Nicholson established during his life, notably with Winifred Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, both famous artists in their own right.
It was in 1932 when Nicholson had begun a new relationship with the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and as a couple they were considered pioneers of avant–garde British Art. During their visits to Paris they spent time with Picasso, Braque, Arp and Brâncusi.
Nicholson developed an interplay of different planes within a work and the conflation of space and depth. His work took on a biographical viewpoint as can be seen in his 1933 (piquet) which depicts two fish served on a dish, a bottle, a cup, reflecting his enjoyment of a trip to France with Hepworth in the previous year.
For me, these are his most pleasing and successful pieces of his work, there is a playfulness and a whimsy to them.
Nicholson’s work became more abstract by late 1933 and his first abstract caved relief, six circles is on display in the exhibition. By early 1934 the reliefs, which had been initially carved free hand and painted with muted colours, developed into the celebrated white painted reliefs, featuring rectangle and circular forms, including ‘White Relief’. 1936.
Just before the outbreak of WW II, Nicholson and Hepworth moved to St. Ives where he was to stay for the next 19 years.
In 1949 Nicholson’s relationship to Hepworth began to break down. They divorced in 1951. Nicholson moved to a new studio that enabled him to work on a larger scale. It was during this period that Nicholson developed his complex linear configurations that helped establish him as a leading British Artist. As part of the Festival of Britain, he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Riverside Restaurant. He was awarded many international awards for painting in the following years including the Guggenheim International Painting Prize. In 1954, along side Freud and Bacon, he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.
By 1958 he was married yet again, this time to Felicitas Vogier, the photographer. The couple moved to Switzerland where they commissioned a house Casa alla Rocca, to be built high above Lake Maggoire.
The light and brightness of the works of this period is often associated with the magnificent natural setting of his new home and the colours are undoubtedly related to the landscape with their earth browns and faded greens.
‘I hold the idea that paintings do not stop as paintings but their ideas project into actual life’.
Nicholson returned to England in 1971, first to Cambridge and then Hampstead, where he was to live for the next eight years until his death.
During the 1970’s Nicholson focused on drawing, which he called ‘paintings on paper’ He met and became friends with the artist Angela Verran Taunt and together they undertook several drawing expeditions. Nicholson also returned to the familiar still life objects that he still had in his studio.
Throughout his sixty year career, Nicholson pursued a singular idea; to create a work of art that was ‘alive’.
As he reflected ‘that after all, is not a bad qualification for a work of art’.
For some reason I was expecting a rather small exhibition, limited in scope. What a surprise to find it is neither of these things. I visited, with three friends and we all enjoyed the exhibition enormously. Although three of the four of us had attended art school we all came away with new knowledge and understanding of Nicholson and his work.
A bonus, was the enchanting outside restaurant selling excellent food and a very good book/gift shop. I highly recommend this exhibition.
Pallant House Gallery
Ben Nicholson: From the Studio
26th June- 24th October 2021
Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19),
the Gallery will have revised opening
hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm (last
timed entry at 4pm)
Sundays/Bank Holidays: 11am – 5pm (last
timed entry at 4pm)
Visitors are encouraged to pre-book timed
tickets to ensure the Gallery adheres to Public
Health England’s Health and Safety measures.
Tickets include full access to the house and
temporary exhibitions programme.
Please visit pallant.org.uk to book your tickets, or
call the gallery on +44 (0) 1243 774557