Ben Nicholson is the big summer show at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester


Spokeswoman Hannah Vitos said: “The exhibition will explore the importance of still life and the studio in Nicholson’s art – from his first highly finished paintings to the abstract reliefs that ensured his international reputation.

“This will be the unique opportunity to see more than 40 paintings, sculpted reliefs and works on paper alongside the still life objects that inspired them, including his distinctive striped jugs, mocha cups and glassware.

“These objects were a vital presence in the many studios that Nicholson lived in during his life and were of central importance in his still lifes.

“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 in modern art.

“The exhibition will include loans from private and national collections, including the Arts Council Collection, British Council Collection, Kettle’s Yard and Tate, as well as several works from National Galleries Scotland and Pier Arts Center, supported by the Weston Loan Program with Art Fund.

“Although Nicholson considered the theme of the still life to be a legacy from his father, Edwardian artist William Nicholson, he strove to break with his traditional style of painting.”

In a letter to a friend, Nicholson recalled “I owe my father a lot […] not only from what he made as a painter, but also from the very beautiful scratched and speckled jugs, mugs and tumblers, and octagonal and hexagonal glass objects that he collected. Having these things in the house was an unforgettable first experience for me.

Hannah added: “The objects were a vehicle for formal experimentation and Nicholson frequently incorporated them as a subject in his paintings. The exhibition will bring together striking examples such as a 19th century striped ceramic jug which Nicholson painted both in an early figured still life, 1914 (the striped jug) and a decade later, in one of his first forays into abstraction 1924 (trout painting), in which the distinctive motif of the jug remains, but its form is reduced to a flat rectangular plane.

“The exhibit will also explore the impact of the personal and artistic relationships that Nicholson established during his lifetime, including his relationship with Winifred Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth Ben and Winifred Nicholson were married in 1920, and during the early years of their marriage, they lived in Switzerland at Villa Capriccio, where they established a simple domestic environment that captured their desire for a modern lifestyle. The couple returned to England in 1923 and quickly moved to Banks Head, a Cumberland farm where Nicholson developed a deceptively naïve approach to painting, as can be seen in 1925 (pot and goblet).

“In 1928, during a visit to St Ives with the painter Christopher Wood, Nicholson met the Cornish fishing artist Alfred Wallis. Wallis’ work, often painted on irregular cardboard boxes, confirms Nicholson’s interest in the materiality of his work and a playful sense of lived experience, as we can see in 1929 (fireworks).

“By March 1932 Nicholson had formed a new relationship with sculptor Barbara Hepworth and shared her studio at 7 the Mall in Hampstead. This new relationship was important to Nicholson’s work and reflection on art. He said that “working together in the same studio at that time was vital for my understanding of the form”.

“Nicholson and Hepworth were considered pioneers of British avant-garde art and during their visits to Paris spent time with Constantin Brâncuși, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. It was during this time that Nicholson has developed an interplay of different planes within a work and the amalgamation of space and depth, and his work also takes a biographical perspective.

“in his still lifes, as can be seen in works such as 1932-33 (musical instruments), which presents the quasi-figurative form of two interconnected guitars, a reflection on his new relationship, and 1933 (piquet), which depicts two fish served on a dish, a bottle and a cup, reflecting his enjoyment of a trip to France with Hepworth the previous year. Nicholson made his first abstract sculpted reliefs at the end of 1933 including 1933 (six circles) , which will be on display. These reliefs were initially freehand carved and painted with soft colors, but by early 1934 they had grown into the famous white painted reliefs, featuring rectangular and circular shapes, including 1936 (white relief) The balance of circular shapes and rectangular areas, located in different planes, is a continuation of the formal interests that Nicholson had explored in his still lifes.

“Nicholson’s studio sets and surrounding environments are often referenced in his work and form a central theme in the exhibition. In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, Nicholson and Hepworth moved to St Ives where he was to stay for nineteen years. It was in Cornwall that he painted his “still lifes-landscapes”, which will be exhibited on July 22, 1947 (still life – Odyssey 1) and 1946 (still life-cerule). In 1949, following a move to a large studio behind Porthmeor Beach, Nicholson began to undertake some of his important and large-scale still lifes, which refer to specific places in Italy, most notably March 1950 (still life – Castagnola) and September 8-54 (Torcello).

“The final section of the exhibit will look at Nicholson’s years in Switzerland, where he moved in 1958. The dramatic landscape informed his sculpted reliefs which again became a central part of his work, and the now familiar forms of his work. Still life objects from jugs and goblets have found new expression in his linear designs and series of prints.


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