Ben Nicholson O.M. 1894-1982
Graphite pencil on wove machine-made hot press paper mounted on thick grey flecked paper 498 x 390 (19 5/8 x 15 3/8)
Inscribed ‘BN 1933' and ‘nude arms overhead Nicholson 15 plus VAT' in another hand on back of grey paper, ‘"Nude c.1932" | Ben Nicholson' and ‘CAT 3' in another hand inside backboard, ‘NICHOLSON | CHY AN KERRIS | CARBIS BAY | CORNWALL' inside backboard and ‘date & sig. on back of paper | (nude) Nicholson | reserved for Tate' on back of backboard
Exh: Ben Nicholson: Drawings 1921-47, Paintings and Reliefs 1921-38 1946-47, Lefevre Gallery, May 1947 (3 as ‘nude 1932')
Repr: Herbert Read, Ben Nicholson: paintings reliefs drawings, 1948, no.45
T03952 depicts a reclining female nude which, according to Sarah Bowness, the artist's daughter, probably depicts her mother, Barbara Hepworth, the artist's second wife.
In 1932 Ben Nicholson began to share a studio with Hepworth and in the spring of that year, and again in the summer, they travelled to France and visited the studios of many of the leading continental artists. This was both an exciting and a painful period in Nicholson's life since his relationship with Hepworth coincided with his estrangement from his first wife Winifred. However, his visits to France were both happy and stimulating and were recorded in a number of paintings completed on his return, for example ‘Au Chat Botté' 1932 (Manchester City Art Gallery, repr. Read 1948, no.58) and ‘St Rémy, Provence' 1933 (Helen Sutherland Collection, repr. ibid., no.53) each of which includes a depiction of Hepworth's face. A number of other works in this period incorporate her features and appear to express the happiness of his new relationship. Nicholson did not usually depict anything other than objects in his paintings except during moments of great change in his life. Thus in c.1927 he painted a portrait of Winifred holding their newly born son, Jake (‘Winifred and Jake' c.1927, private collection, London, repr. Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson: The Years of Experiment 1919-39, exh. cat., Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge 1983, p.59).
Nicholson executed a number of drawings of Hepworth in c.1932, of which three, including T03952, were exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery in May 1947. The other two belonged to Helen Sutherland, a collector of avant-garde art who lived in Cumberland (one of these, ‘Girl in Mirror' 1932, is repr. Read 1948, no.43). Miss Sutherland owned a number of works by Nicholson whom she met for the first time on 5 November 1925. A further nude study, probably depicting Barbara Hepworth, belonged to J.R.M. Brumwell, another friend of Nicholson (repr. ibid., no.44). One other nude study is known to exist in a private collection in London, entitled ‘Untitled 1932'.
All these drawings are stylistically consistent with each other and appear to have been executed around the same time. They are all drawn with an economy of line reminiscent of Matisse, an artist in whom Nicholson showed an interest when collecting photographs for a scrapbook he maintained in the early twenties (see Lewison 1983, p.12). All the known drawings of Hepworth depict her in moments of rest or contemplation in a mirror and were probably sketched fairly rapidly.
The two inscriptions on the back of the paper and the inside of the backboard suggest two different dates for this work but the earlier date, 1932, is more likely than 1933. The inscriptions were added some time after completion of the work, when Nicholson was living at Carbis Bay (he left Carbis Bay in 1951). The date ascribed to T03952 in Read's book is similar to the one given in the Lefevre catalogue.
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.222-3