LONDON - Since the mid-1930s, Ben Nicholson’s work has been exhibited widely both at home and abroad. This summer’s exhibition has toured from Leeds to Cambridge, finally resting at Dulwich where it was on view until the end of September. It was the most recent in a long line of shows that have chosen to focus on particular aspects of Nicholson’s career. This exhibition was primarily interested in demonstrating the links and influences between Nicholson’s work, the work of Winifred (his first wife), and his close friend Christopher Wood. The Mondrian/Nicholson show at the Courtauld (2012), on the other hand, was more concerned with considering the influence that two of the leading forces in abstract art in the 1930s had on each other. These shows follow in the footsteps of several important international exhibitions of Nicholson’s work, which have established him as one of the most significant British artists of his generation.
Ben Nicholson, O.M.’s Aug 24 - 52 (Palimpsest), front and back. Estimate £300,000–500,000.
By 1952 when Nicholson painted Aug 24-52 (Palimpsest), he was considered one of Britain’s most pre-eminent artists. In the same year he won first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition and was commissioned to produce the mural for the Time and Life Building in Bond Street. This commission followed on from the success of his mural at the Festival of Britain in 1951. Two years later he would be chosen to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale and over the following years, his reputation would grow on the global stage, and his most important works were coveted by collectors from across the world.
It is no wonder then that this painting has had such an incredible journey over the last 60 years as seen by the incredible arrangement of exhibition labels on the reverse. In 1953, the year after Nicholson completed the work, it travelled across the world to Tokyo for the Second International Art Exhibition and remained in Japan until it returned to London in 1973. Five years later the work was chosen for the exhibition – Ben Nicholson: Fifty Years of His Art and would travel from Buffalo to Washington to Brooklyn, before returning to be included in the Tate’s retrospective of Nicholson’s paintings in 1993. Aug 24-52 (Palimpsest) did not rest long and was soon seen in France at the Musee d’Art Moderne in St Etienne. In fact, this work has been seen in more countries than I have ever visited and now returns to Sotheby’s London where it will be on view from 14 November through 18 November when it will be offered as part of the Modern & Postwar British Art sale.