Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Schulhof Collection
Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)

August 1964 (Stonehead)

Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)
August 1964 (Stonehead)
signed, dated and titled 'Ben Nicholson Aug 64 (Stonehead)' (on the reverse)
oil on carved board laid down by the artist on masonite
23½ x 29¾ in. (59.6 x 75.5 cm.)
Executed in August 1964
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London.
André Emmerich Gallery, New York (by 1965).
Anon. sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 9 November 1983, lot 78.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Russell, Ben Nicholson, Drawings, Paintings and Reliefs, 1911-1968, London, 1969, p. 309 (illustrated in color, pl. 69).
N. Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 333, no. 320 (illustrated in color, p. 332).
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Ben Nicholson 1955-1965, April-May 1965, no. 86.
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Lot Essay

August 1964 (Stonehead) is an outstanding example of a carved relief, the approach to abstraction for which Ben Nicholson is perhaps best remembered. His first reliefs date from the 1930s, and while of great personal interest to Nicholson, were not considered saleable at that time. Patrick Heron believed that the commercial success attained by the artist in the 1950s gave him the financial security to return to the relief. Another further impetus was his move in March 1958, with his wife Felicitas Vogler, to Brissago, where they built a house looking east across Lago Maggiore. Nicholson found a great source of inspiration in his new environment; the panoramic vistas influenced the horizontal format of his reliefs from this period.

In August 1964 (Stonehead), Nicholson introduces a more painterly surface which would become an important feature of his late reliefs. Punctuated by a red element near the lower edge of the composition, in the present work the artist achieves his intention to create a unity where color and form become one: "In a painting it should be as impossible to separate form from color or color from form as it is to separate wood from wood-color or stone-color from stone. Color exists not as applied paint but as the inner core of an idea and this idea cannot be touched physically any more than one can touch the blue of a summer sky" (the artist quoted in J. Lewison, Ben Nicholson, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1993, p. 233).

The artist's carved reliefs of this period are further discussed by Peter Khoroche: "Many of Nicholson's late reliefs have place-names in their titles: Racciano, Kos, Obidos, Malta, Carnac, Aegina, Amboise...He added these name-tags only after completing each work and the connection between the two, whether close or distant, was always highly personal, even at times frivolous. The reliefs are rarely straightforward evocations of a place: they are not so much landscapes as mindscapes. Above all, they are objects whose colour, form and texture are to be appreciated for themselves and for what they suggest to each individual viewer. They are a means of conveying an experience or an awareness, not the representation of something. Obviously this requires a special sort of aesthetic contemplation in the spectator who, if properly attuned, will enter into Nicholson's idea and so share with him a highly-charged piece of living reality. Just as for Nicholson it was a question of finding and recognizing the right mood before he could start on a drawing, or of going deeper and deeper into his subconscious as he scraped and painted and rubbed and scoured the bone-hard hardboard of his late reliefs, so we who contemplate the finished work must do so with sympathetic sensitivity, opening up our own memory-store to meet it halfway" (Ben Nicholson 'chasing out something alive' drawings and painted reliefs 1950-75, exh. cat., Kettles Yard, Cambridge, 2002, p. 38).

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