Bernard Jacobson Gallery presents a selection of paintings, reliefs and drawings by great British abstract artist, Ben Nicholson. On display are a range of works, presented chronologically, dating from 1916 to 1979, just three years before Nicholson’s death in 1982 in order to illustrate the development and refinement of his oeuvre.
As the recent Courtauld exhibition, ‘Mondrian and Nicholson in Parallel’ re-iterated, the links between Nicholson and key members of the European avant-garde, Arp, Braque, Mondrian, Picasso and Giacometti, are well known, and yet, perhaps less well known was Nicholson’s interest in and acquaintance with the work of the Italian Renaissance painters, Giotto, Uccello and Piero della Francesca.
From the mid-1930s, when, for a short period the city was an international centre of modernist art and experimentation, Mondrian and Nicholson were increasingly paired as leading exponents of what became known as ‘geometric abstraction’. Nicholson began to explore abstraction several years before he met Mondrian, executing his first abstract painting as early as 1924 yet he found powerful confirmation of his artistic convictions through the Dutchman’s unique, inspirational and strikingly assured example. Always mindful, however, of his beloved Piero della Francesca, as much as of Mondrian and others, his paintings of the 1950s, particularly ‘Still Life (Lorca)’, (1949) and ‘Italian Wall’ (1955), its rubbed down surfaces reminiscent of the faded quality of Francesca’s frescos in Arezzo or Borgo San Sepolcro, owe much to the classical simplicity of the painters of the Italian Renaissance.
My favourites of the works on display include: ‘Dec 61 (Greek and Two Circles)’, an earthen and worn pastel coloured oil and pencil piece on carved and incised gessoed board, and ‘Dec 63 (Xmas Relief)’, a highly intertextual oil on carved relief mounted on prepared board. An assertive, minimalist statement and a visual amalgamation of his remarkable White Relief works, ‘Dec 63′ provides evidence too of Nicholson’s aesthetic affinity with the natural world and with a small square of rich red, we can detect, perhaps, a wonkily witty allusion to Mondrian and his love of primary colours. I also love the soft wash of ‘Lilac Blue’ (1963) and finally, ‘Brissago and Hampstead’ (c.1960-79) a simultaneous vision of the view from his house on the hillside above Brissago, Switzerland and on Parkhill Road, Hampstead, in rusty brown, thinly painted tufty white and a receding sliver of ice pale blue on carved board.
The exhibition runs until 16th June