Ben Nicholson OM

1979 (blue)


Not on display

Ben Nicholson OM 1894–1982
Oil paint and ink on paper
Support: 125 × 140 mm
Presented by Leslie Waddington 2001


This small abstract work painted in gouache on white wove paper dates from the end of Nicholson’s career. Compositionally it consists of a loosely geometric form, built up from four differently coloured and shaped blocks. Nicholson cropped the form to its edges and placed it centrally on the support, which creates a wide border. Black dominates but inset within the black area is an evenly proportioned parallelogram of bright blue. To the right are areas of red-brown and off-white. The work is mounted on textured, stone-coloured backing board and set within a box frame painted dark grey.

In 1974 Nicholson moved to Hampstead, having returned to England from Switzerland where he had lived during the years 1958–71. Aged in his eighties he continued to work on reliefs, which had dominated his output in the 1960s, and produced many drawings. From March 1978 until his death in 1982, Nicholson focused on producing a large number of works on paper of modest dimensions. These small works were undertaken using Pentel felt pens, pencil, ink, gouache and oil.

Many of these works, including June 1978 (group in movement) (reproduced in Lewison, p.125, fig.141) are based on still life objects, details of the jugs and mugs that appeared in his art over many years, for example in 1943–45 (St Ives, Cornwall) 1943–5 (N05625). In these last works, though, the drawing is looser than it had been previously. Writing in 1992 of the late works, art historian and critic Norbert Lynton commented: ‘more and more one feels that the objects themselves stand for large and weightier themes and in some instances the finished work appears to be wholly abstract’ (Lynton, p.138).

1979 (blue) is one of the most abstract of this group of works. Characteristic of this period is Nicholson’s use of a limited range of strong colours, which accentuate contrasts in texture between different mediums. In T07779 the varying density of the area of black in particular, which Nicholson shaded unevenly with felt tip pen, contrasts strikingly with the evenness of the area of blue. Although black is the principal colour, the artist clearly identified blue as the most important within the work, given the title. Considering the diversity of materials used and their manner of application, Lynton has questioned whether these works should be considered as drawings or whether the artist intended them as miniature paintings (Lynton, p.138).

The mount and box frame are characteristic of Nicholson’ practice and an integral part of the work. 1979 (blue) belonged to the artist and hung on the on the wall of his studio.

Further reading:

Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, Oxford 1991.

Norbert Lynton, Ben Nicholson, exhibition catalogue, Odakyu Museum, Tokyo 1992.

Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Hayama 2003.

Alice Sanger
April 2009

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