Ben Nicholson OM

1934 (relief)


In Tate St Ives

Ben Nicholson OM 1894–1982
Oil paint on mahogany
Object: 718 × 965 × 32 mm
frame: 742 × 990 × 69 mm
Purchased 1978

Display caption

Nicholson was interested in the ways in which paintings can represent space. In the 1930s, he made shallow reliefs in which areas of different depths define actual space. In the most radical of these, colour was reduced to just white or grey to achieve a sense of purity. Depth and plain colour make the play of light and shadow an intrinsic part of the work. This emphasis was related to new ideas about living and, especially, to modern architecture, in which natural light and formal simplicity were major concerns.

Gallery label, December 2016

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Catalogue entry

T02314 RELIEF 1934 1934

Inscribed ‘Ben Nicholson’ and ‘title: relief 1934’ on back
Oil on carved mahogany panel, 28 1/4 × 38 × 1 1/2 (71.8 × 96.5 × 3.8)
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1978
Exh: (?) Work by Members of the Artists International Association, Brighton Art Gallery, August 1939 (71)

Ben Nicholson made his first completed relief in Paris in December 1933. This and the other reliefs made in the next month or two were usually painted in greys and browns. The first relief painted completely in white was executed in March 1934, the month in which he exhibited a white relief ‘2 circles’ at the 7&5 Society exhibition at the Leicester Galleries. In most of the white reliefs the excavated areas were bounded by circles; a rectangular excavated area as in the right-hand side of T02314 is unusual.

The artist told the compiler in April 1979 that he could not recall exactly when he made T.2314. Seven reliefs dating from 1934 were included in Nicholson's exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery in September 1935 and one dating from 1934 was included in his exhibition there in May 1947, but it is impossible to say whether this particular work was among them. The remains of an Artists International Association label on the back makes it almost certain, however, that it was included in the Exhibition of Work by Members of the Artists International Association at Brighton Art Gallery in August 1939.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981

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