BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
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BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF PETER LANYON
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)

1943 (Towednack, Cornwall)

BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
1943 (Towednack, Cornwall)
signed, inscribed and dated 'Towednack, Cornwall/Ben Nicholson/1943/property of/Peter Lanyon' (on the backboard)
oil and pencil on board, with paper relief
10 x 13¾ in. (25.4 x 34.9 cm.)
Painted in 1943.
Purchased directly from the artist by Peter Lanyon in 1944.
with Redfern Gallery, London, where purchased by Lady Norton in June 1954.
with Marlborough Fine Art, London.
with Waddington and Tooth Galleries, London.
with Waddington Galleries, London, where purchased by the present owner's father in December 1979.
H. Read, Ben Nicholson Paintings, London, 1948, fig. 86.
N. Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 192, no. 176, illustrated.
C. Stephens, Peter Lanyon: At the edge of landscape, London, 2000, p. 19, fig. 5, listed as 'whereabouts unknown'.
T. Treves, Peter Lanyon: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings and Three-Dimensional Works, London, 2018, p. 59, illustrated.
Swindon, no. 16, exhibition not traced, lent by Peter Lanyon.
London, Lefevre Gallery, Ben Nicholson: Paintings & Reliefs 1939-1945, October 1945, no. 26.
New York, British Council, English-Speaking Union of the United States, British Art The Last Fifty Years 1900-1950, January 1951, no. 21.
Berne, Kunsthalle, Ben Nicholson, May - July 1961, no. 43.
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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Angus Granlund
Angus Granlund Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The present composition, simply titled 1943 (Towednack, Cornwall), dates from a key period during the early 1940s when Nicholson was living in north Cornwall, just along the coast from St Ives: it is part of a distinct group of compositions showing the sweeping Penwith landscape, depicting farms inland from Carbis Bay and St Ives. The Nicholson family, having resided at a house called Dunluce, described by Nicholson as a ‘wretched little villa’ had moved to a larger house, Chy-an-Kerris, Carbis Bay, in August 1942. Here, at last, both Nicholson and his wife Barbara Hepworth could both have a studio. Peter Khoroche comments, ‘Nicholson did not experience Cornwall only from his bedroom window. He liked nothing better than to escape for a day’s sketching to Halsetown, Towednack, Trendrine or Zennor – names associated with so many of his works, whether drawings, paintings or reliefs, in the following years. At first his range of motifs was limited by wartime restrictions on access to the coastline and by how far he could go on a bicycle’. By 1948 he had a small car and three years later a 1929 MG Midget, which he hand-painted a pale dove grey (see P. Khoroche, Ben Nicholson: drawings and painted reliefs, Aldershot, 2002, pp. 51-52).

Towednack is a small village, easily accessible from where the Nicholsons lived, just two miles inland from St Ives. In the present work, the still life elements of cups and vessels of the foreground interact with the far-reaching landscape stretching away towards the distant sea on a high horizon. 1943 (Towednack, Cornwall) personifies Nicholson's landscape compositions of this period, executed in a muted palette of clay-coloured thin oil washes in ochre and umber. Pencil shaded accents and line are used to indicate curtains and to reinforce the illusionistic depth of the foreground still life, allowing the viewer a hint of Nicholson’s iconography of the carved-and-painted relief boards he had produced in the 1930s.

Jeremy Lewison comments, 'In order to earn a living he [Nicholson] returned to painting landscapes in naïve style which his gallery, Alex Reid and Lefevre, considered easier to sell. The return to landscape was generally to be observed in English painting during the war as Britain reverted to a period of isolation … Paintings of this period were small and rehearse and develop the ideas which he had worked out ... paintings develop the theme of the still life set before a window which Nicholson, along with many other members of the Seven and Five Society, including Winifred Nicholson, had enjoyed during the late twenties ... In such compositions Nicholson was interested in being able to unite objects in the foreground with those in the background, allowing the eye to travel over large distances and periods of time at one glance ... The impact of the landscape on Nicholson's work was considerable. After his move to Cornwall [in 1939] he ceased to make white reliefs, which could be interpreted as an urban art, and reintroduced subdued colours as well as brighter tones which appear to be derived from his surroundings’ (J. Lewison, Ben Nicholson, London, 1991, pp. 19-20). John Rothenstein writes about the landscape works that Nicholson painted in Cornwall at this time, ‘Absolved from any sense of obligation to represent with any degree of exactitude, and with unrestricted scope for the exercise of his faculties as a designer of pure form [these landscapes] express a lyricism absent from landscapes he made in the late 1920s. Particularly happy, too, are the indications of landscape, sometimes very slight, that appear as backgrounds for still-lifes … such indications, moreover, evoke most convincingly the distinct atmosphere of Cornwall’ (J. Rothenstein, Modern English Painters, Vol. II, London, 1984, p. 191). Patrick Heron took this point further and described these landscape paintings as 'excellent portraits: they evoke that very remarkable bit of country with uncanny accuracy' (P. Heron, quoted in J. Lewison, exhibition catalogue, Ben Nicholson, London, Tate Gallery, 1993, p. 85).

Nicholson himself wrote, ‘"Realism” has been abandoned in the search for reality: the “principal objective” of abstract art is precisely this reality. Sir Herbert Read, in his 1947 publication, A Coat of Many Colours, expands on ‘reality’ in the artist’s work, ‘Ben Nicholson who, like all the great painters of the past, is something of a mystic, believes that there is a reality underlying appearances, and that it is his business, by giving material form to his intuition of it, to express the essential nature of this reality. He does not draw that intuition of reality out of a vacuum, but out of a mind attuned to the specific forms of nature – a mind which has stored within it a full awareness of the proportions and harmonies inherent in all natural phenomena, in the universe itself’ (H. Read, quoted in J. Rothenstein, ibid.).

The present work may well have been seen by Herbert Read in late June 1943 when he and his wife Ludo visited the Nicholsons in Cornwall. Read went on to include the work in his important monograph on the artist (loc. cit.). Interestingly, the original owner of 1943 (Towednack, Cornwall), was the internationally-acclaimed artist, Peter Lanyon, one of the few Cornish-born painters of the St Ives group, born in St Ives in 1918 and who was 24 years younger than Nicholson. Lanyon was a pupil of Nicholson’s for some months in the early 1940s, receiving ‘a great stimulus’ from him (see N. Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 177). In 1944 he wrote to Nicholson asking to purchase one of his works: ‘About the painting of yours. If you can pick me one like the Zennor about £30 I shall be v. much obliged. When and if I get a house of my own one day, it’s not going to have Arnesby Browns and Talmages and things on its walls’ (P. Lanyon in a letter to B. Nicholson, 1944, quoted in T. Treves, Peter Lanyon: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings and Three-Dimensional Works, London, 2018, p. 59). Nicholson selected 1943 (Towednack, Cornwall). More recently, 1943 (Towednack, Cornwall) has been listed as ‘whereabouts unknown’ (see C. Stephens, loc. cit.): it was last known to have been exhibited in 1961 and it was acquired privately by the present owner’s father over forty years ago, so its appearance on the market today is something of a re-discovery.

Nicholson must have felt a deep connection with this Towednack location: similar vistas to the present work are found in later paintings such as 1946 (Towednack), sold Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1994, lot 43, £177,500; June 11-49 (Cornish Landscape), sold Christie’s, London, 6 June 2008, lot 66, £319,250 and Jan 29-48 (Towednack), sold Bonhams London, 15 June 2016, lot 15, £374,500 which all show still life objects within a window aperture and where the division lines of the distant fields communicate with the foreground still life.

We are very grateful to Rachel Smith and Lee Beard for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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