Ben Nicholson: A Continuous Line

Chronology

Building timeline ...

1894

Benjamin Lauder Nicholson is born at Eight Bells, Denham, Buckinghamshire on 10 April, the eldest son of artists William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde.

Claude Monet working on Rouen Cathedral series

London's Tower Bridge opens

1895

William Nicholson dedicates a small painting to Ben: "My Dear Ben, I did this at Primrose Hill Farm about 6 months before you were born. Will"

First Venice Biennale

Lumiere brothers' first cinema projection

1896

1897

Birth of Anthony Nicholson (brother).

William Nicholson was a successful and well connected printmaker and painter who counted painter Walter Sickert and writer Max Beerbohm amongst his friends.

National Gallery of British Art (later the Tate Gallery) opens on Millbank;
Vienna Secession founded

1898

Family moves to Chaucer's House in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

Auguste Rodin: Balzac;
Birth of Henry Moore and René Magritte

Spanish-American War
Boer War 1899-1902

1900

1901

1902

William Nicholson begins work on a portrait of Ben. Though unfinished, it indicates how painting was an integral part of Ben's childhood. He was later to compare his own work as a "reaction against his father's 'accomplishment' [and] ... admiration for my mother's strength of character". He compared his own manner of working with his mother scrubbing the kitchen table - something she would do when William's talk of art became too highfalutin.

Gustav Klimt: Beethoven frieze

1903

Enters the school of Heddon Court, Hampstead, where he is a contemporary of future artist Meredith Frampton.

Birth of Barbara Hepworth, who is to become a well recognised sculptor and Nicholson's second wife.

Birth of Barbara Hepworth

Wright brothers' first flight

1904

Family holiday at Rustington, Sussex, where they meet JM Barrie. Barrie uses a drawing by Nicholson as a poster for his play Peter Pan which opened in December at the Duke of York Theatre and for which William Nicholson designed some of the sets and costumes.

Birth of Christopher (Kit) Nicholson (brother).

Birth of Salvador Dalí

1905

1906

Family moves to Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury, London.

Pablo Picasso starts work on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon;
Death of Paul Cézanne

1907

1908

1909

Attends Gresham's School, Holt where later the painter Adrian Stokes was a pupil.

Family move to Rottingdean, Sussex.

Filippo Marinetti: Futurist Manifesto

1910

Enrols at the Slade School of Fine Art in London where he meets painter Paul Nash who is to become a friend and colleague. However he leaves the Slade after only a year.

Manet and the Post-Impressionists exhibition, organised by Roger Fry, held at Grafton Galleries, London.

Mexican revolution

1911

1912

Nicholson informs his father that he intends to become a painter. His very early career paintings of this period are now lost, but a painting of a jug from 1911or 1912 was exhibited in the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers exhibition in 1914.

Birth of Jackson Pollock;
Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

RMS Titanic sinks on maiden voyage

1913

1914

On outbreak of war Nicholson exempted from service due to asthma.

David Bomberg: The Mud Bath;
First issue of Blast published by Wyndham Lewis and fellow Vorticists.

First World War begins

1915

1916

Stays at Llys Bach, Harlech in Wales where he meets the poet Robert Graves, who is later to marry Nicholson's sister Nancy.

Dada movement launched at Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich

1917

1918

Nicholson's mother dies in July of influenza. His brother Anthony Nicholson is killed in action.

Nicholson returns from USA where he has been staying because of his asthma.

Nancy Nicholson (Ben's sister) marries Robert Graves.

Kazimir Malevich: White Square on a White Ground

First World War ends; Poland and Czechoslovakia become republics

1919

1920

Meets painter Winifred Roberts in July and holidays with her family in Cornwall. After four months, Nicholson and Winifred marry in November. After honeymooning in Italy they purchase Villa Capriccio in Switzerland and they split their time between Switzerland and London. A page from Nicholson's personal photo album displays their paintings and photographs of the villa together.

Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner: Realistic Manifesto (a defining text of Constructivism)

League of Nations founded

1922

Ben and Winifred's travel between London and Switzerland offers them access to the Parisian art scene. Nicholson's work of this period shows clearly the influence of Cezanne and the Cubists. The simplicity, lack of conventional perspective and tonal handling can be seen in a number of works, including Two Bottles 1922 and many landscapes painted in Cumberland and Cornwall such as this one, now untraced, painted in 1921.

Benito Mussolini siezes power in Italy

1923

Ben and Winifred abandon their Swiss villa and acquire Banks Head, a farmhouse on the line of Hadrian's Wall in Cumberland. During this period, they explore and experiment with their painting. Works such as Bread 1922 and Cortivallo, Lugano 1921-3, abandon a slick finish in favour of an emphasis on brushwork and surface.

1924

First solo exhibition at the Twenty-one Gallery, Adelphi. A number of abstract paintings follow, including Chelsea, 1923-4.

Nicholson is elected a member of the Seven and Five Society of artists. Other modernist members follow including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Winifred Nicholson and later John Piper.

André Breton: Manifesto of Surrealism

1925

Exhibits in group show in Paris with Brancusi, Miró, Moholy-Nagy, Mondrian, Nash, Winifred Nicholson and Picasso among others.

Sergei Eisenstein: Battleship Potemkin.

Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf

1926

Becomes chair of Seven and Five Society. Meets painter Christopher Wood who becomes a close colleague. Exhibits with Wood and Winifred in Modern English Art at Mayor Gallery, London;

He continues to develop the move to abstraction and his interest in surface texture while still working with representational subjects such as still lifes.

Death of Claude Monet

1927

Birth of first son, Jake, in June.

Begins primitive landscape style, a development of his naïve approach to still life.

Barbara Hepworth: Doves

1928

Ben and Winifred, with Christopher Wood, stay at Feock in Cornwall. In St Ives they see Alfred Wallis painting at his table through his open back door. Wallis, a local fisherman, was completely untrained as an artist, and his naïve style appealed directly to Nicholson's desire for a 'truthful and fresh way of conveying reality'. In hindsight Nicholson remarked, 'One finds only the influences one is looking for and I was certainly looking for that one.'

1929

Birth of daughter Kate.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opens in New York

Wall Street Crash

1930

Christopher Wood, possibly believing himself pursued (an effect of withdrawal from opium), throws himself under the London train in Salisbury in August.

1931

Birth of son, Andrew.

Having met on a number of occasions earlier in the year, Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth start a relationship whilst on holiday in Happisburgh, Norfolk.

Abstraction-Création group, with whom Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth are to exhibit, is founded in Paris.

1932

By mid March Nicholson and Hepworth are sharing a studio, known as the Mall, in Hampstead and executing linocuts together. A dramatic shift in Nicholson's style corresponds with the development of their relationship.

He celebrated their new realtionship with a number of paintings of her profile often intertwined with his, while she at the same time, made a number of carvings with their incised profiles. In Nicholsons's Auberge de la Sole Dieppoise Nicholson himself uses an incised line for a portrait of Hepworth.

1933

Having become a frequent visitor to Paris, where Winifred has settled with the children, Nicholson contemplates moving there with Hepworth.

On their way home from Provence in the spring, Nicholson and Hepworth visit Braque, Brancusi and Picasso. During this period the couple are in contact with a wide range of international artists, including Piet Mondrian and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and are invited to join the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création.

1935

Travels to Lucerne where he is exhibiting seven reliefs in Thése Ahthithése Synthése at the Kunstmuseum.

Sees Braque and Kandinsky in Paris.

Mendelsohn and Charmayeff build the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill, East Sussex, an icon of international Modernist architecture.
Death of Kazimir Malevich

1936

Abstract and Concrete exhibition, showing Nicholson's work alongside that of Mondrian, opens in Oxford in February and subsequently tours Britain.

Nicholson is included in Cubism and Abstract Art exhibition at MoMA, New York (March).

Death of King George V. His successor, Edward VIII, abdicates before the year is out.

1937

Nicholson co-edits Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art (published in July) with artist Naum Gabo and architect Leslie Martin, and Hepworth and Sadie Martin.

Holidays in Varengeville with Calder. Braque and Juan Miró are close by.

Pablo Picasso: Guernica

Spanish Basque Town of Guernica bombed

1938

Exhibits in Abstrakte Kunst, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (April).

Marriage to Winifred dissolved and he and Hepworth marry in November.

1939

With Hepworth and triplets stays with Adrian Stokes and Margaret Mellis in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. Declaration of war persuades them to stay. Naum Gabo joins them but Mondrian stays in London before travelling to New York.

Takes Peter Lanyon as a pupil in November.

In December the family moves into a rented house at Dunluce, Carbis Bay.

Second World War starts

1940

Shows in several exhibitions around Britain. First work acquired by Tate Gallery: 1933 (guitar). The cardboard cut out of the guitar situates the work somewhere between painting and sculpture and was probably influenced not only by the Cubists, but also by Alfred Wallis's use of irregularly shaped cutouts to determine his compositions.

Despite their apparent isolation Nicholson and Hepworth are visited throughout the war by friends and patrons.

Corresponds with Piet Mondrian.

1941

Article on abstract art written by Nicholson is published in Horizon. Nicholson and Hepworth argue with the Russian sculptors Gabo and Antoine Pevsner on the definition of Constructivism. Whilst acknowledging their work to be 'constructive', Nicholson and Hepworth wish to distance themselves from Constructivism, the 1920s Russian movement.

Japanese attack Pearl Harbour

1942

Despite the attention brought about through his association with Nicholson and Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis dies in poverty in the Madron Workhouse in Penzance.

Nicholson is included in New Movements in Art exhibition, London Museum. Work is also exhibited in New York, and in a British Council exhibition of contemporary British art in Toledo.

Rents 'Chy-an-Kerris' on the edge of Carbis Bay, where Nicholson remains until 1955.

1943

Joins St Ives Society of Artists with which he exhibits until 1949, when he and Hepworth resign over a rift between abstract and figurative artists within the group.

Horizon publishes article by Nicholson on Alfred Wallis.

Piet Mondrian: Broadway Boogie-Woogie

1944

As the war progresses Nicholson develops a new form of painted relief, signalling perhaps a 'moderated idealism' acknowledging the 'need for art to be more accessible and tolerant' in light of the war.

Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion;
Death of Piet Mondrian in New York

1945

With the end of the war Nicholson considers moving back to London but chooses to stay in Cornwall as he finds post-war London an unpleasant place to live.

Tate purchases two pictures: 1943-5 St Ives Cornwall and 1945 still life. The St Ives painting reflects the increasing popularity of depictions of English landscapes during the war. Nicholson added the Union Jack as a gesture to celebrate VE Day and the end of the war.

Death of Paul Nash

1946

Nicholson's work is exhibited in Britain, USA and France, including An Exhibition of the Work of Modern British Artists at the Institute of Modern Art, Boston and a group show including Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud at Lefevre.

Becomes the first foreign artist to be elected an honorary member of the American group Abstract Artists Association.

1947

1948

John Summerson's book on Nicholson in 'Penguin Modern British Painters' series published after four-year delay.

Lund Humphries publish major monographic book with introduction by Herbert Read. Read also pens the introduction to the 40 Years of Modern Art exhibition held at the Institute for Contemporary Art.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by UN General Assembly

1949

Breaks with St Ives Society of Artists and is a founding member of Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall.

As his relationship with Hepworth is breaking down she moves into her newly acquired Trewyn Studio. Nicholson takes the large No 3 Porthmeor Studios on the beach in St Ives.

Death of his father (on 16 May) prompts Nicholson to reflect on his artistic debt to both his parents.

George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four

1950

Hepworth is selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale. Her selection ahead of Nicholson upsets him and puts further strain on their already deteriorating relationship.

Nicholson and Hepworth take part in the exhibition 6 English Moderns held at the Cincinnati Modern Art Society.

1952

1954

Represents Britain at Venice Biennale in June, alongside Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. The exhibition travels to Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels and Zurich before being shown at the Tate Gallery.

Death of Henri Matisse

1955

Visits Paris for the opening of his exhibition at Musée d'Art Moderne and sees friends Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner. Participates in several group exhibitions including the first Documenta show in Kassel.

In the spring, Nicholson moves to 'Trezion' in the centre of St Ives. He turns down the offer of an honour from the prime minister.

The Tate Gallery hosts a retrospective exhibition this summer and also purchases three works.

1956

Visits Paris at the time of his show at the Galerie de France and sees Braque.

Awarded first Guggenheim International painting prize for August 1956 (Val d'Orcia). Publication of second volume of Lund Humphries monographic book.

This is Tomorrow exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery (emergence of Pop Art in Britain)

Suez Crisis

1957

In July, Nicholson marries Felicitas Vogler, a German photographer, in London. They honeymoon in Yorkshire, borrowing the house of Cyril Reddihough.

Resigns membership of Penwith Society of Arts.

Awarded prize for best foreign painter at the fourth São Paulo Biennial.

Barbara Hepworth: Icon;
Death of Constantin Brancusi and David Bomberg

1958

Nicholson and Vogler leave St Ives for Switzerland. Initially they settle just below Ronco in a house called Casa Ticinella overlooking Lake Maggiore. The house is small and Nicholson is restricted to making small drawings.

Later they move to a larger house, Casa Vecchia, in Ronco. The house has a proper studio and Nicholson returns to making reliefs, which remain his main activity throughout the 1960s.

1959

1961

Nicholson and Vogler move into 'Casa alla Rocca' on Lake Maggiore, designed by a young local architect with whom Nicholson worked closely. (Nicholson had asked Leslie Martin to design the house but Martin felt the distance was too great and that it might affect their friendship.)

In the autumn Nicholson and Vogler visit Mycaenae, Olympia and Paros in Greece.

Berlin Wall goes up

1963

Visits Florence where he sees the Mont Sainte-Victoire which Cezanne painted many times. Featured in numerous exhibitions, including one with Arp, Bissier, Tobey and Valenti at the Kunstmuseum, St Gallen. The five artists' signatures appear on the cover of this show's catalogue.

Death of Georges Braque

President John Kennedy assassinated

1964

Retrospective at Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas.

Looks at Malevich paintings at the Stedelijk Museum; has rarely seen one before, except in reproduction.

Designs a relief wall for Documenta III at Kassel.

1965

Visits Mark Rothko in his studio in New York. Whilst in America, Nicholson and Vogler also visit Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Nicholson is offered the Companion of Honour but turns it down commenting that residing in Switzerland he already has a CH, on his car.

Death of Le Corbusier

1966

Visits England in the summer during the World Cup.

Rosenthal commences a series of porcelain editions of Nicholson's wall at Documenta but he is unsatisfied with the results and the project is terminated after two years.

Included in exhibition of works by Nicholson, Alfred Wallis and Christopher Wood at the Crane Kalman Gallery, London.

England wins football World Cup

1967

Contributes to a special issue of Studio International on Mondrian.

Visits the Tate Gallery and is impressed by the rehang under new director Norman Read. Pays particular attention to the Turners.

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

1968

Awarded the Order of Merit having hitherto refused all official honours; turns down the offer of the Freedom of the Borough of St. Ives.

With Vogler visits the Venice Biennale.

Death of Marcel Duchamp

Paris riots

1969

Major retrospective exhibition at Tate Gallery. To coincide with the show, Studio International publish special edition on Ben Nicholson.

Thames and Hudson publish Nicholson monograph.

Included in European Masters exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, London.

First lunar landing

1970

Shows wash drawings alongside works by Mondrian at Marlborough Gallery, London.

1971

Nicholson feels the need to live in England again and he and Vogler agree to live apart. Stays at the Flying Fox, Cambridge, belonging to long-time friends Sadie and Leslie Martin.

Meets Angela Verren-Taunt and invites her to work alongside him. Over the next few years they go on numerous drawing holidays around Europe.

1972

Declines honourary degree of Doctor of the Royal College of Art.

1973

Spends time drawing with Angela Verren-Taunt in Cyprus, Yorkshire and the Cotswolds.

Included in Henry Moore to Gilbert and George: Modern British Art from the Tate Gallery at the Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

Death of Pablo Picasso;
Sydney Opera House opens

1974

Returns to the UK to live in Hampstead, London.

Receives the Rembrandt Prize from the Goethe Foundation in Basle.

President Richard Nixon resigns following Watergate scandal

1976

1977

Death of Nicholson's sister Nancy.

Pompidou Centre opens in Paris;
Death of Naum Gabo

1980

1981

Death of Winifred Nicholson (5 March).

Ronald Reagan starts first term as US president

1982

Nicholson dies in London on 6 February.

Included in Circle: Constructive Art in Britain 1934-40, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge; solo exhibition at Waddington Galleries, and at Art Centre, Tokyo.

Falklands War
Israeli forces invade southern Lebanon