Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)
Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)


Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)
signed and dated 'Ben Nicholson 1940-42'; indistinctly inscribed and dedicated 'Molly Pritchard Lawn Road Flats Belsize Park Love from Ben...' (on the reverse)
oil and pencil on canvas-board, in the artist's frame
8 5/8 x 7 1/8in. (21.9 x 18.1cm.)
Painted in 1940-1942
Molly Pritchard, London (a gift from the artist in the 1960s), and thence by descent.
Their sale, Christie's London, 22 June 1993, lot 232, as 'Little L: 1940-42'.
Private Collection, Los Angeles.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 11 May 2000, lot 88, as 'LITTLE L: 1940-42'.
Spink-Leger, London, June 2000.
Acquired from the above by Waddington Galleries, London.
Acquired from the above by Jeremy Lancaster, 2 November 2000.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

‘Nicholson’s sense of light, colour and space – and probably also of movement – was refreshed by his experience of sky, land and sea, so that there were always new things to attempt as well as tried ideas and methods to develop further.’
- Norbert Lynton

Ben Nicholson’s 1940-42 was painted at the beginning of the Second World War, after the artist had left London with Barbara Hepworth and their three children for the safety of Cornwall. Composed of geometric forms of varying harmonious hues, this work can be seen as one of a number of culminating examples of the artist’s form of minimal, ‘constructive’ abstraction that he had practiced throughout the latter part of the 1930s. Fusing the light and colours of the Cornish landscape with his pioneering artistic ideals, this work serves to illustrate the shift that occurred in Nicholson’s work at this pivotal moment of his career.

Remaining in his collection for many years, in the 1960s Nicholson gave 1940-42 to his friend, the psychiatrist Molly Pritchard. Nicholson had befriended Pritchard in the 1930s when he lived with Hepworth in Hampstead. Pritchard’s husband Jack was the founder of Isokon, a firm dedicated to the design and construction of modernist houses, flats and furniture in London. One of the most famous projects was the construction in 1934 of the Lawn Road Flats, also known as the Isokon Building, in Hampstead. The first modernist building made of concrete to be constructed in the UK, it became a centre for avant-garde activity in pre- and wartime London, with a host of artists and writers, including Piet Mondrian, George Orwell, Lee Miller and Henry Moore all living nearby. The Pritchards lived in the penthouse, while at various times other residents included Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, Agatha Christie and Arnold Deutsch, the KGB spy and recruiter of the Cambridge Five.

In August 1939, as Britain stood on the brink of war, Adrian Stokes had invited Nicholson, Hepworth and their young family to spend the summer with them at their home in Carbis Bay, in St Ives. When war broke out in September, the family stayed on there, moving in the New Year into another house nearby called Dunluce. After a brief stay there, in July 1942 they moved into the more spacious, Chy-an-Kerris, situated on the other side of Carbis Bay. Upon settling in Cornwall, Nicholson immediately began promoting the Modernist principles and aesthetics that he had pioneered in London throughout the late 1930s. He wrote to Mondrian and Naum Gabo, imploring them to join him in South West England; while Mondrian declined, Gabo and his wife joined Nicholson and Hepworth a few months later, remaining together in Cornwall for the duration of the war.

The Cornish landscape had an immediate effect on Nicholson’s work. Nicholson had, up until this point, created highly innovative non-representational works in the form of his carved white reliefs and his series of paintings composed of geometric planes of pure colour. Uprooted from London, the centre of the British avant-garde, Nicholson suddenly found himself immersed in the expansive, sea-filled landscape of Cornwall. As a result, the natural world gradually began to make itself felt in Nicholson’s work. The colours and the light of the vast grey skies, sandy beaches and sea entered his palette, and alongside his abstract works, he also began to return increasingly to nature. As Norbert Lynton has written, ‘with every day Ben Nicholson’s sense of light, colour and space – and probably also of movement – was refreshed by his experience of sky, land and sea, so that there were always new things to attempt as well as tried ideas and methods to develop further’ (N. Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London 1993, pp. 187-188). While seemingly maintaining the same minimal mode of construction as his earlier works, 1940-42 can be seen to exemplify this shift. Composed of soft neutral tones accompanied by an intense cube of red, the composition is filled with an increased sense of tactility, the harmonious colours of its geometric forms infused with a sense of the soft light and rural landscape of Cornwall.

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