BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)

July 25-47 (still life - Odyssey 2)

Details
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
July 25-47 (still life - Odyssey 2)
signed twice, inscribed and dated 'Ben Nicholson/July 25-47/still life (Odyssey 2)/NICHOLSON/CHY AN KERRIS/CARBIS BAY/CORNWALL' (on the reverse)
oil and pencil on panel, on the artist's prepared board
21 3/8 x 14 ¼ in. (54.3 x 36.8 cm.)
Painted in July 1947.
Provenance
Margaret Gardiner.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 12 July 1974, lot 410.
with Galerie Beyler, Basel, where purchased by the present owner in 1974.
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. On occasion, Christie’s has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. Where Christie’s holds such financial interest we identify such lots with the symbol º next to the lot number. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

‘All the "still lifes" are in fact land-sea-sky scapes to me.’ - Ben Nicholson writing to Patrick Heron, 9 February 1954.

In the immediate post war period, Ben Nicholson's still life paintings were dominated by the depiction of a large oval tabletop, covered in jugs, cups, and various studio paraphernalia. These were usually executed on multi-layered surfaces carved by the painter himself. He subsequently introduced flecks and imperfections which he filled with colour to suggest the texture of rocks and stone walls. As this series developed, the still life objects and shapes began to shift from representation to abstraction with Nicholson effortlessly blending the two. The defining influence in these works is the natural beauty of the Cornish landscape viewed from his studio window. Here Nicholson builds upon his achievements of the previous two decades, adding to the unique abstract aesthetic that propelled him to international fame and cemented his reputation as the pioneer of British Modernism. Rhythmic arrangements of geometric shapes are rendered in rectangular planes of soft colour. Gradually the delicate lines and shapes of objects can be made out, revealing the curve of a bottle or the outline of a goblet. The suggestion of a tawny brown table leg is visible in the lower left-hand corner, and above the rectangles in soft blue and pastel pink, a pencil line indicates the shape of a hill on the horizon.

Discussing the works of this period, including the sister painting dated three days earlier, July 22-47 (still life, Odyssey 1), (coll. The British Council, London), Norbert Lynton commented that, ‘flat colours present themselves with the neatness of toy soldiers, two of them at least speaking of a mug and cup, others less clearly referential, together presenting a tilting, shifting result not unlike the abstract 1945 (2 circles), (private collection). Repeated edges and margins keep our attention on the central part of the square 1946 (composition, still life), (coll. Manchester City Art Galleries) where white, dark brown, bright red and yellow, and a subtle blue-grey jostle for the front position. Something of the same sort seems to be happening in the British Council's July 22-47 (still life, Odyssey 1), a still life contained in the visual centre, in this case by an oval tabletop with, it seems, rectangular support from a dado and other indoor shapes. The colours of the still life have much the same artificial bias and there are penciled shadow lines and patches to add drama to the arrangement. But here we find a line of hills inscribed along the top band; slight though it is, it opens the picture to space and light, just as the subtitle opens the memory. But it is only the hint of hills: the unusually tight cluster of still-life objects, more or less contained within the oval line of the table, is set in a generous space in which gentle tones, abetted by one chunk of penciled shadow, keep the air moving as the eye moves around the centre' (N. Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 214).

Ben and his wife Barbara Hepworth had arrived in Cornwall in 1939. In 1942 they moved into a large house with studios at the end of Carbis Bay, Chy-an- Kerris. Describing the view from his studio that summer, Nicholson told Jim Ede, `It faces due N. - looking out to the Atlantic horizon with St Ives, like Greece, coming out into the bay on one side & Godrevy lighthouse & its rocks and N. Cornwall on the other - the sea as I write is blue beyond belief & small white yachts & an occasional brown fishing boat are here & there radiating from St Ives, a mysterious cloud bank on the horizon fades in a haze into a pale blue sky - but I like even better the due S. view which is as close & personal & warm as the N. one is cold and remote - there my bedroom I thought at first was a rather terrible Victorian pagoda but it turns out whitewashed, to an exceptionally lovely little DUCCIO or Fra Angelico cell with two fragile white pillars & strange & rather lovely shaped ceiling & casement windows with the hot sun which comes in all day & changes to bright moonlight at night. I see a lovely old Cornish roof with a palm tree & pines & nice pale coloured & flowering shrubs & next door but one a snow-white walled garden with bright green leaves & red flowers & black cats in it & rather like Paris suburb or the S. of France in feeling. Barbara for the first time since the war has a room for a studio & has been able to get her blocks of stone & wood, & her large sculptures out - the room is absurd because it really might be 7 Mall Studios only with the blue sea outside' (Ben Nicholson, letter to H.S. Ede, 29 August 1942, Kettles Yard Archive, University of Cambridge).

Nicholson’s reference to Greece is particularly apt here. The view is undoubtedly anchored in St Ives but the sub-title Odyssey, with its Homeric connotation recollects other journeys and lands which remained so crucial to Nicholson’s work. Nicholson himself summed up these paintings most succinctly: `All the "still lifes" are in fact land- sea-sky scapes to me’ (Ben Nicholson, letter to Patrick Heron, 9 February 1954).

The first owner of this painting was Margaret Gardiner, O.B.E., a close friend of Ben and Barbara and a patron of both artists. The daughter of the Egyptologist, Sir Alan Gardiner, Margaret assisted Harold Carter and Lord Carnarvon with the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1923. She lived at Downshire Hill in Hampstead, but spent much of her time on Rousay, Orkney where she founded the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness in 1979. Margaret supported a wide group of artists associated with St Ives, including Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and Alfred Wallis. In the early days, Margaret acquired works through purchase and later once the group was more established she received works as gifts from the artists.

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