Ben Nicholson OM

1933 (Profile)


Not on display

Ben Nicholson OM 1894–1982
Linocut print on paper
Image: 600 × 450 mm
frame: 650 × 604 × 20 mm
Presented by Alan and Sarah Bowness 2015


1933 (Profile) is a linocut printed with black ink and is one of a series of works made by Ben Nicholson in 1933 in which the principle motif is a female profile, or a number of profiles. In this version of the print, the central profile is located in a narrow, irregularly shaped field of white in which some traces of the texture of the carved lino has transferred to the paper. The outer field of black fades to the edges in a way comparable to other impressions of the same work. The figure’s hair is described by the curvilinear silhouette of the back of her head and a continuous, sinuous white line typical of Nicholson’s work of this time. She has two eyes, in close proximity, one of which has a pupil described by a spiral that recalls the work of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). The depiction of the head in profile and the frequent use of incised line to describe that profile also reveal Nicholson’s debt to Picasso. Consistently, the profile in such works as this is that of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975). Nicholson and Hepworth began an intimate relationship in late 1931 and he moved into Hepworth’s studio at 7 The Mall, Hampstead, in March 1932. The linocut was most probably made at that address and three separate impressions of the work appear in a photograph of the studio by Paul Laib, which Nicholson used to illustrate his section of the avant-garde publication Unit One in 1934.

1933 (Profile) is signed by the artist but does not belong to a numbered edition, although curator Jeremy Lewison has noted twelve known impressions (Lewison 1985, p.108). Of these, one is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and another in that of Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. When he left Britain in 1958 to move to Castagnola in Switzerland, Nicholson still had seven impressions in his possession: one of those is now in the British Museum, London, and this version is another. These appear to be additional to those listed by Lewison. The production of this print was thus an informal one. Indeed, its multiplicity seems to have been part of Nicholson’s thinking, hence the three separate impressions hung in his studio as seen in the photograph by Paul Laib.

The depth of colour and evenness of the ink’s application varies from one impression to another, as does the colour itself. Some are a deep black, like this one, others blue and at least one seems to combine blue and black. At least one has been printed twice, to create a double image. This may relate to a similar work, 1933 (Profiles) 1933 in which two or three profiles are overlaid; the image appears twice in a version in Kettle’s Yard’s collection, and four times in another still held by the artist’s family. Lewison relates a third work to this group of prints, a fabric designed by Nicholson entitled princess, which also uses the distinctive profile of Hepworth. This hand-printed fabric design was printed using linocut and combined the profile with other motifs, the combinations varying from one fabric to another. That the present work relates closely to a work designed for commercial reproduction may suggest something of the context within which it was conceived. Consistent with this may be a further impression of 1933 (Profile), which is printed on Irish linen similar to that used for the princess fabrics. Most of the impressions of this work have a vertical line near the centre, the variation of which suggests it might derive from a fold in the paper but which Lewison believed to have been from a ‘mark or split’ in the linoleum; this theory is thrown into question by the fact that the line appears in different positions in relation to the facial features.

In parallel with Nicholson’s development of the motif, Hepworth began to incise profiles and other details into her increasingly abstract sculptures, similarly denoting them as figures or pairs of inter-twined figures. There is strong evidence that the artists were engaged with a consciously collaborative endeavour and as a result it is possible to think of this linocut as emblematic of that exchange. Nicholson’s use of incised lines in such prints has been seen as a precursor of the reliefs that dominated his work form 1934 to the late 1930s (see Lynton 1993, p.107). His development of that line of work has been related to his relationship with Hepworth and the proximity of her carving tools, but he had first made linocuts, which similarly necessitate the use of gouging a line, around 1927. Regardless, the year 1933 was a turning point in Nicholson’s art and his relationship with Hepworth seems to have been an integral part of that change, illustrated by the repeated appearance of her profile in his art and most particularly in this print.

Further reading
Jeremy Lewison, ‘The Early Prints of Ben Nicholson’, Print Quarterly, vol.2, June 1985.
Norbert Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London 1993.
Jeremy Lewison (ed.), Ben Nicholson, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993.

Chris Stephens
November 2014

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