Ben Nicholson (British, 1894–1982), an original member of the St. Ives School, was born in 1894 in Denham, Buckinghamshire. The son of two artists, William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde, Nicholson’s earliest influence was his father. The artist’s early works consisted solely of still life and landscape subjects. In 1910, he enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he trained as an artist alongside peers Paul Nash (British, 1889–1946), Mark Gertler (British, 1892–1939), and Edward Wadsworth (British, 1889–1949).

A trip to Paris introduced Nicholson to Post-Impressionist and Cubist works, which inspired the artist to create his own work within these European movements. It was an introduction to Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944) that set the Abstract tone to Nicholson’s newly influenced work. Nicholson’s gift was the ability to incorporate these trends into his own style. His first solo exhibition was held at the Twenty-one Gallery in London in 1924. That same year, he became chair of both the Seven and Five Society and Unit One, which was founded by Paul Nash. Nicholson created his first wood relief in 1933; this became his most celebrated work. The piece, entitled White Relief, was a simplified geometrical work of whitewashed circles and rectangles.

Years later, the artist became coeditor of an influential monograph on Constructivism in 1937, along with artist Naum Gabo (British/Russian, 1890–1977) and architect Sir Leslie Martinan. The monograph aimed to apply Constructivist principles to public and private art. Nicholson had his first retrospective at the Tate Gallery in London in 1955. One year later, he won first prize at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh. He also won the international prize for painting at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1957. He has held various retrospective exhibitions since, and his works can be seen at the Tate Gallery, Tate St Ives, Kettle’s Yard Art Gallery, and the Hepworth Wakefield. His work is still seen today as the epitome of British Modernism. The artist died on February 6, 1982.

Timeline

1894
Born in Denham, Buckinghamshire (son of artist Sir William Nicholson)
1903–1910
Educated at Heddon Court and at Gresham Court
1910–1911
Studied at the Slade School of Fine Art
1912–1914
Travelled in France, Italy and Spain
1917–1918
Lived in Pasadena, California
1933
Co-founded Unit One, with Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Edward Burra, Paul Nash and Edward Wadsworth, among others
1924–1935
Member of the 7 & 5 Society
1937
Together with Naum Gabo and Leslie Martin, edited Circle: International Survey of Constructivist Art
1943–1949
Joins St Ives Society of Artists and exhibits with them
1949
Founding member of Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall
1951
Nicholson was commissioned to paint a mural for the Festival of Britain
1952
Commissioned to paint a mural for the Time-Life Building in London
1952
Awarded first prize for painting at the 39th International Exhibition (Carnegie International)
1954
Ulisse Award
1956
Won the first Guggenheim International Painting prize
1957
Won the prize for painting at the Sao Paolo Bienal
1964
Made a concrete wall relief for the Documenta III exhibition in Kassel, Germany
1968
Awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth
1958–1971
Lived and worked in Switzerland
1971
Returned to England
1974
Rembrandt Prize
1982
Died in London, England

Exhibitions

1993
Tate Modern, London (retrospective)
1978
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo (retrospective)
1969
Tate Modern, London (retrospective)
1964
Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas (retrospective)
1961
Kunsthalle, Berne (retrospective)
1955
Tate Gallery, London (retrospective)
1954
Venice Biennale and Tate Modern, London (retrospective)
1952
Detroit Institute of Arts and the Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis (retrospective)
1944
Leeds Art Gallery (retrospective)
1936
Cubism and Abstract Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1935
‘Artists against Fascism’, London
1935
‘Exposition internationale d’art moderne,’ Brussels
1932
Lefevre Gallery, London
1932
Arthur Tooth and Sons, London
1931
Bloomsbury gallery, London
1928
Lefevre Gallery, London
1927
Beaux Arts Gallery, London
1924
Twenty-one Gallery, London (solo)
1923
Joint exhibition with Winifred Nicholson at Patterson’s gallery, London
1922
Adelphi Gallery, London (solo)