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 AMERICAN ESTATE
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)

1945 (painting)

BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
1945 (painting)
signed and dated 'Ben Nicholson/1945' (on the reverse)
oil and pencil on board, on the artist's prepared board
9 x 8 1/2 in. (22.9 x 21.6 cm.)
Painted in 1945.
Purchased by Jack Pritchard at the 1945 exhibition, and by descent.
Their sale; Sotheby's, London, 21 June 2005, lot 388.
with Richard Green, London, where purchased by the present owner.
London, Lefevre Gallery, Ben Nicholson: Paintings and Reliefs, 1939-45, October 1945, no. 76.
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. 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

Remaining in his collection for almost 50 years, 1945 (painting) was acquired by Jack Pritchard in the year that it was painted. Nicholson had befriended Pritchard and his wife Molly in the 1930s when he and Barbara Hepworth were their neighbours in Hampstead. 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 in Hampstead, also known as the Isokon Building. 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 and Agatha Christie.

'The kind of painting I find exciting is not necessarily representational or non-representational, but it is both musical and architectural, where the architectural construction is used to express a “musical” relationship between form, tone, colour and whether this visual, “musical” relationship is slightly more or less abstract is for me beside the point' Ben Nicholson

In 1945 (painting) Ben Nicholson presents the viewer with a series of geometric elements, executed on multi-layered surfaces carved by the painter himself, with the uppermost layer displaying two circles. The composition belongs to a series of works painted throughout the last year of the Second World War which are a synthesis between landscape and still life painting, and which celebrate the colours and natural beauty of Nicholson's Cornish home. The artist has texturised the surface of the painting board to suggest rocks and stones and the colour notes of pastels, earthly tones, and a rich black, speak to the dramatic contrasts in the natural world around him. Heightened moments of strong colour draw the eye to key points in the composition and serve to emphasise the presence of the two hand-drawn circles. The shift from representation to abstraction which Nicholson blends so skilfully in his works confirms his international standing as the most important British Modernist of the 20th Century.

The early years of the 1930s saw an unprecedented emergence of artists whose work was moving to pure abstraction, and Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth were at the forefront of this movement in Britain. In the autumn of 1933, by a process of carving and the removing paint from a painted surface, Nicholson created his first reliefs, and after visiting Mondrian in his studio in April 1934, Nicholson began to paint these white. The artist recalled, 'the thing I remembered most was the feeling of light in his room and the pauses and silences during and after he'd been talking. The feeling in his studio must have been not unlike the feeling in one of those hermits' caves where lions used to go to have thorns taken out of their paws' (see P. Khoroche, Ben Nicholson: drawings and painted reliefs, Aldershot, 2002, p. 39). Throughout the 1930s, Nicholson explored the concept of abstraction in two major series of works: carved white reliefs with incised circles, and paintings created with geometric blocks of pure colour.
A summer holiday to Cornwall in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, brought about a sudden and complete change for the Nicholson family. Staying on in Carbis Bay to avoid war time London, they lodged with friends until they found a permanent home where a small bedroom now served as a studio space and lack of raw materials necessitated work created on a smaller scale. In St Ives, Nicholson became strongly influenced by the quality of light and the beauty of the rugged landscape that he witnessed around him. As Norbert Lynton has remarked: ‘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). David Lewis, Barbara Hepworth's assistant, recalled Nicholson's working conditions: ‘The studio was white inside and its whiteness plus the light from the sea made sharp colours incredibly intense. Around the walls were stacked canvases; and on a shelf were the bottles and glass goblets which appear in so many of his paintings. His palette was a simple table top’.

From around 1943 Nicholson began to set up his still-life group on a windowsill with a direct view of the landscape beyond - he wrote to his friend Patrick Heron, in 1954, explaining that 'All the 'still-lifes' are in fact land-sea-sky scapes to me' (quoted in J. Lewisohn, Ben Nicholson, London 1993, p. 86). The lightness of tone of 1945 (painting) belongs to a group of works created in response to the last months of the war and many were later exhibited, with the present work, at Lefevre Gallery, London in October 1945.

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

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