The early 1920s were a highly prolific and experimental period for Ben Nicholson. It was during those years that he broke away from the sophisticated naturalism of the preceding decade and developed an interest in modern French and early Italian painting. 1921-circa 1923 (Cortivallo, Lugano) is one of the few surviving works from that time.
Between1920 and 1922 Nicholson, with his wife, Winifred, spent the winters in a villa overlooking Lake Lugano, Switzerland. Cortivallo, the subject of this painting, was one of the nearby villages. The picture was probably painted indoors from an outdoor sketch of the motif.
In its appearance and much of its technique the picture is indebted to Paul Cézanne's landscape paintings of the 1880s and 1890s, in particular those of Mont Ste Victoire. The cubistic rendering of buildings, rough modelling of forms and unfinished brushwork are all reminiscent of Cézanne's style. It has also been suggested that the restrained use of clear, delicate colour and simplified forms may have been a response to the work of early Renaissance artists, for example Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello. Nicholson's admiration for these painters is well documented…