Ben Nicholson O.M. 1894-1982
T03951 16 strings1978
Watercolour, oil and blue-black ink on irregular size thick, coated hot press paper 255 x 210 (10 x 8 1/4) mounted on hardboard 380 x 324 (15 x 12 1/2)
Inscribed ‘res BN | for Tate Gallery | when | I pop | OFF' on label and ‘No 43' in another hand, ‘16 STRINGS' on board behind paper and ‘NFS BN (16 strings) NICHOLSON 78' on back of paper along bottom edge
Bequeathed by the artist and acquired 1985
T03951 depicts an unspecified object which might relate to a musical instrument, a jug or even a tool. The principal colours are black, brown and blue. According to Angela Verren, a close friend of the artist, ‘it definitely refers to one of Ben's many striped jugs, very freely treated' (letter to the compiler dated 21 May 1988). As an image it appears to be a further develop- ment of the tool images which Nicholson made in 1973-4 (a series of which are reproduced in Ben Nicholson, exh. cat., André Emmerich Gallery, Zurich 1975). However, it seems most closely related to a drawing such as ‘Whirl' 1979 (repr. Ben Nicholson: Recent Works, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, 1980, no.43 in col.) and in the use of pen to apply continuous lines of ink it is similar to many works illustrated in the same catalogue. It is possible that a landscape lies behind the principal motif, as in ‘Welsh Coast' 1981 (repr. Ben Nicholson: New Work, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, 1982, no.62 in col.).
According to Angela Verren, by 1978 Nicholson was no longer carving reliefs since it required too much physical strength. Accordingly he devoted most of his time to making works on paper. The backboards to which the drawings were attached were always textured with paint. A number of them were prepared by Angela Verren but she does not recall whether she prepared this particular one. ‘It would be almost impossible to distinguish between them' [those prepared by her and those by Nicholson himself]. The white paint applied to the board and subsequently rubbed down does not cover the area behind the paper. The watercolour which has been applied to the paper also displays signs of rubbing.
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.221-2