Ben Nicholson

Biography of Ben Nicholson

A pioneering figure of modern art, Ben Nicholson's austere geometric paintings and reliefs could be described as the most influential abstract works in British art. Nicholson worked in a variety of mediums and later in life set up the now world renowned St Ives School in Cornwall.


Born in 1894, Ben Nicholson attended the Slade School of Fine Arts in London in 1910 and was exempt from military service because of his asthma. He was instrumental in converting the previously traditionalist Seven and Five Society into an avant-garde art group by expelling the non-modernist members. Between 1933-7 Nicholson began exploring abstract relief sculpture, which resulted in his distinctive white reliefs in painted wood. It was after his meeting with Piet Mondrian that Nicholson's work took on this simplified geometry, typified by the low reliefs of whitewashed circles and rectangles, as seen with White Relief (1937–38). By now unequivocally one of Britain's most important abstract painters, Nicholson moved to St Ives with his new wife, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and in 1934 they had triplets. St Ives soon became a Mecca for aspiring abstraction painters in Britain, renowned for its concrete art of the 50s and 60s.


In 1952 Ben Nicholson won first prize at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. In 1954 he was awarded a retrospective at the Venice Biennale which would go on to be shown at the Tate Gallery in London. He had further retrospectives at the Tate Gallery again in 1993, the Museum of Fine Arts in Dallas in 1964, amongst many others. In 1968 he was awarded the British Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II. Nicolson died in 1982, regarded as one of Europe's most influential artists of the modernist era. A mainstay of many of the most high-profile art museums around the world including the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Tate Gallery in London, Nicholson's work regularly sells for upwards of a million British pounds at auction. 

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