Ben Nicholson

1894 – 1992


Ben Nicholson was a British abstract painter, printmaker and draughtsman. A leading British modernist artist and disseminator. He briefly studied at the Slade School in 1910 – 11. His first solo show was held at the Adelphi Gallery in London in 1922. In the early 1930s he regularly travelled to Paris where he visited the studios of Picasso, Arp, Brâncuşi, Braque and Mondrian with his new bride Barbara Hepworth. From 1939 to 1958, They lived in St Ives, Cornwall. He was a key figure in the ‘St Ives School’ of artists which also included Patrick Heron, Naum Gabo, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost.

Nicholson began to make hand-printed textiles for his own use. Later he welcomed their saleability, as it helped relieve his poor finances. In the 1930s he created several different designs, sometimes in collaboration with Barbara Hepworth. The prints were made using blocks of linoleum. In the late 1940s Nicholson gave many of the blocks to his sister Nancy, who used them to print editions which she sold, alongside her own textiles, at Poulk Press in London. In 1937 Nicholson also produced six woven and printed designs for his friend Alastair Morton, of the Edinburgh Weavers, which were marketed as part of the Constructivist range and later one of the sensational Ascher Squares for Zika Ascher.

In 1951 he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Time-Life Building at the Festival of Britain and in 1952 Nicholson won first prize at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh. He was awarded the first Guggenheim International Painting prize in 1956 and the International Prize for Painting at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1957. Nicholson represented Great Britain at the 1954 Venice Biennale, together with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Numerous retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held, including shows at the Tate Gallery in 1954 – 5 and 1969. In 1968, Nicholson was awarded the Order of Merit from HM the Queen.