Doll house made by Ben Nicholson for his daughters (c.1940)
Doll’s house made by Ben Nicholson for his daughters (c.1940)

The daughter of the St Ives-based artist Denis Mitchell once played with a doll’s house made by Ben Nicholson, which now resides in Tate archive

In 1949 my father, the sculptor Denis Mitchell, began working for Barbara Hepworth, who at the time was married to Ben Nicholson. He had already known Ben for a number of years. The latter had made two doll’s houses, both furnished, one for each of his daughters, Sarah and Rachel – I don’t know what he made for Simon, the third of the triplets. By 1949, they had grown out of them, so he thought they would make a nice gift for me and my younger sister, Denise (who, as it happens, now works for Tate St Ives).

Denise and I had many hours of pleasure playing with them. As well as being furnished, I seem to recall that the rooms were wallpapered. Ben brought them to our house in St Ives. My memory is of a small man who wore a white cap. I also remember my mother asking him to stay for meals. I don’t recall what she offered him – it was usually spaghetti, although I’m sure she could cook other dishes, but he would always insist on kippers. I thought he was quite fussy. Sometimes he stayed and played with the two of us for a while. Later we came to have his cat, called Bottlebrush after the style of its tail.

As a nine-year-old girl, I wasn’t that conscious of my father’s friends being artists – almost all of them were. I wasn’t aware whether they were well known or not, either. If they had been film stars, I may have taken more notice.

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