Ben Nicholson OM

Feb 28-53 (vertical seconds)


Oil paint on canvas
Support: 756 x 419 mm
Purchased 1955

Display caption

This picture exemplifies Nicholson's recurrent practice of using contrasting areas of flat, vibrant colour with a pale ground that has been scrubbed and distressed. The bright patches of red and yellow act as focus points, and perhaps bring to mind late landscapes by J.M.W. Turner, such as those in the next room, which are similarly 'centred' by bright points of the same colours. But Nicholson would primarily have had in mind the grid-like abstracts of Mondrian, whom he greatly admired. There is a remarkable consistency in the way that Nicholson formulated his abstract designs, from his first such exercises in the 1920s (such as the picture displayed elsewhere in this room)though to the 1950s and '60s.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

T00051 FEB 28–53 (VERTICAL SECONDS) 1953

Inscr. ‘Ben Nicholson Feb 28–53 (vertical seconds)’ on turnover of canvas.
Canvas, 29 3/4×16 1/2 (75·5×42).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1955.
Exh: Lefevre Gallery, September–October 1954 (24, repr.); Tate Gallery, 1955 (63, repr. in colour pl.8); Berne, May–July 1961 (58).
Repr: Read, II, 1956, pl.98 (in colour); Tate Gallery Report 1955–56, 1956, between pp.22 and 23; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, 1962, p.259.

Exhibited in 1954 and 1955 as ‘Feb 28–54’. The holes along the top and right-hand edges, caused by the canvas having been re-stretched before being painted on, are part of the design (letter from the artist, 26 January 1957). Other paintings in which ‘accidental’ surface blemishes are used are ‘Aug. 1952 (palimpsest)’ in the collection of M. Nagata, Tokyo (repr. Read, II, 1956, pl.56) and ‘still-life (spotted curtain) March 14–47’ at Aberdeen (repr. Read, I, 1948, pl.179); cf. also the panel used for N05125 above. Such so-called blemishes are frequently the starting-point of a painting, relief, or drawing and in some cases become a key point, e.g. ‘Oct. 1951 (six eyes)’ (repr. Hodin, 1957, pl.27) which was based on six holes already bored in the wood before the painting was begun (letter from the artist, 13 September 1958).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II