Letter by J.M. Barrie
Letter by J.M. Barrie (1860-1937)

For my third item from the archive, to represent acquisitions from 1987, I have chosen to talk about a letter, dated 20th December 1905 and written by the Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie to Ben Nicholson. Ben Nicholson was an English abstract painter and a member of the St Ives Society of Artists and is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in twentieth century British art along with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, who was also Nicholson’s wife. The letter refers to a poster that the young Nicholson designed for the original London stage production of Barrie’s classic tale. Ben Nicholson’s father, William,  designed all the costumes (except that of Peter) for this production, and it was via this connection that Ben met the author while on holiday in Rustington, Sussex,  in 1904. The result of this meeting was the creation of the poster referred to in the letter, and which is considered to be the artist’s first notable work. I am interested in this item because it illustrates the link between people working in different sections of the arts. The J.M. Barrie letter is just one among the vast collection of correspondence within the Ben Nicholson collection, which was purchased by Tate Archive from the artist’s executors in 1987. Apart from correspondence, the collection consists of a wide range of artwork, writings and documentation, financial and legal documents, photographs and printed material, all of which relates to Nicholson’s career as an artist, his relationship with other artists and his family and his work with Studio St Ives. Both J.M. Barrie’s story and Ben Nicholson’s paintings were inspired by the loss of brothers at a young age, how do you think that family relationships could inspire? TGA 8717/1/2/96

Written by David Pilling