Ben Nicholson OM

1939-44 (painted relief)


Not on display

Ben Nicholson OM 1894–1982
Oil paint on hardboard on plywood
Object: 165 × 254 × 6 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

This is a small version of a relief in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which is over a metre wide. During the war, Nicholson produced multiple versions of his abstract paintings and reliefs in different sizes. Though this was probably prompted by economic necessity, Nicholson had identified himself with the Constructivists who applied principles of mass production to art practice. The Russian sculptor Naum Gabo, Nicholson's neighbour in Cornwall, made numerous versions of a single idea as a matter of course.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03119 PAINTED RELIEF 1939–44

Inscribed ‘Ben Nicholson/1939-/(executed 1941-/"44-)’ on back of plyboard, together with ‘BLOCK NO19/Penguin Modern Painters’, two arrows with the word ‘TOP’, and the name ‘MORTON’ bottom right
Oil on hardboard, carved and painted, laid on plyboard, 10 × 13 1/4 × 3/8 (25.4 × 33.5 × 0.9)
Purchased from Mrs Cherry Morton (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: Alastair Morton (purchased direct from the artist)
Exh: IV Bienal, São Paulo, September–December 1957 (Nicholson 10; also as 10 colour in special British Council catalogue) and subsequent tour of the British exhibit to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, January–March 1958 (10, colour); Ben Nicholson, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, January–February 1959 (10); Ben Nicholson, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, February–April 1959 and Museum Folkwang, Essen, July–August 1959 (22); British Art and the Modern Movement 1930–40, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, October–November 1962 (119, repr.on cover); Alastair Morton and Edinburgh Weavers: Abstract Art and Textile Design 1935–46, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, April–May 1978 (63)
Lit: Herbert Read, intro., Ben Nicholson: Paintings, Reliefs, Drawings, 1948, no.118, colour
Repr: C.H. Waddington, The Scientific Attitude, West Drayton 1948, pl.4; John Summerson, Ben Nicholson, West Drayton 1948, pl.19 in colour

This is the second version of a larger work (32 7/8 × 45in.) of 1939 now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was acquired from the artist in 1939 or 1940 by Alastair Morton, but may later have been retouched or slightly altered on more than one occasion, as the inscription on the back suggests. This was apparently not an unusual practice for Nicholson.

A black and white postcard of T03119 was published in November 1939 by Circle, the ‘International Survey of Constructive Art’ edited by Nicholson, J. L. Martin, and Gabo. In all, two series of cards were published. The second reproduced works by Lissitzky, Malevich, Moholy-Nagy, van Doesburg and the British ‘Constructivists’ Arthur Jackson and Morton himself.

'Painted Relief’ (large version) was one of sixty-two works selected by Nicholson for inclusion in a photographic album or monograph which he assembled for Alastair Morton, at the latter's suggestion, in the early summer of 1940.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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