Ben Nicholson (1894 – 1982) was a leading British modernist and abstract artist. He was born in Denham, Buckinghamshire, to the artists William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde, and studied in London at the Slade School of Art from 1910-11. Much of Nicholson’s early work consisted of traditional landscapes and still life paintings, inspired by the work of his father. In the 1920s, he began experimenting with geometric forms. He made several trips to Paris in the early 1930s, visiting the studios of Mondrian, Brancusi and Picasso, whose styles, such as neoplasticism and cubism, were distilled into his own approach to abstraction, evident in his paintings and relief works.
In 1938, Nicholson married his second wife, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and relocated to St Ives, Cornwall. He had visited the town a decade earlier, where he was moved by the work of British naïve painter Alfred Wallis. During their time living there, St Ives became a centre for abstract developments in British art, attracting other artists such as Russian constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo to join them.
Nicholson married his third wife, photographer Felicitas Vogler, in 1957, and moved to Castagnola, Switzerland the following year. It was during this period that he embarked on his etching and drypoint printmaking phase, making the acquaintance of Swiss printmaker François Lafranca in 1965. In 1971, Nicholson split up with Vogler and returned to the UK, eventually settling in his final home in Hampstead.
During his career, Nicholson won the Carnegie Prize in 1952, the first Guggenheim International Painting Prize in 1956, and received the British Order of Merit in 1968. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Tate Gallery in London in 1955, where some of his pieces can still be viewed today. His work also features in the permanent collections of Tate St Ives, Kettle’s Yard, and the Hepworth Wakefield in the UK, as well as The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to name a few.