Lot 15
  • 15

Winifred Nicholson

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
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  • Winifred Nicholson
  • Spring Landscape, circa 1935
  • oil on canvas
  • 61 by 61cm.; 24 by 24in.
  • There is an unfinished composition on the reverse.


Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London
Reuters Collection
Acquired directly from the above by the family of the previous owner, 1986
Their sale, Bonhams London, 12th March 2008, lot 34, where acquired by the present owner


London, Austin/Desmond Fine Art, Aspects of Modern British Art 1920-60, 1984, cat. no.42, illustrated;
London, Tate, Winifred Nicholson, 3rd June - 2nd August 1987, cat. no.3.


Original canvas. There is minor undulation to the canvas. There are some fine lines of craquelure to the bottom centre of the composition and to the left and right hand sides, with further, small traces visible elsewhere upon closer inspection. There is a small surface scratch, with a few minor flecks of resultant loss to the brown pigment in the lower left hand corner. There are few minor traces of light surface matter in the bottom right quadrant, but this excepting the work appears in very good overall condition. Ultraviolet light reveals areas of fluorescence and retouching to the sky, most prominent of which appear in the upper right quadrant, with a few further scattered traces elsewhere to the composition. Housed in a shabbily painted wooden frame. Please contact the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

We are grateful to Jovan Nicholson for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.

The present lot has previously been dated to the early 1920s and thought to have been painted at Castagnola, Lugano, where the newly married Mr & Mrs Ben Nicholson had spent their honeymoon and later owned a house. However, according to Jovan Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson's grandson, Spring Landscape was most likely painted in the 1930s: the clue to this being the abandoned abstract composition on the reverse. As Nicholson often turned her canvases round to paint on the other side and as she only began making abstracts around 1934, it therefore follows that Spring Landscape must date from this year or later, when Nicholson began to make regular visits to the South of France (see lot 128).

In its composition, its deliberate naivety, its wonderfully restrained palette, accented with pools and stripes of emerald green, the present work bears all the hallmarks of the paintings Winifred and Ben made in the years of their marriage when, along with Christopher Wood, they embarked on a journey to create an English vernacular modernism, taking their cues from all manner of sources: Cubism, folk art, Matisse, the art of children. Winifred has always suffered from being seen as a footnote in Ben life and yet at the early stages of their careers, hers was an equal part in these attempts to be thoroughly modern – from the house at Bankshead (for which Winifred bought a Mondrian), through to their joint search for an un-tutored, 'primitive' language that could express modern ideas of informality and directness. Here, in Spring Landscape, we see Nicholson in full control of a visual language that is as much her own as Ben's, more so perhaps as it has nothing to do with pure abstraction, the  'international style' that, by the 1930s, held Ben (now separated from Winifred) in its thrall. And this was a language that was to sustain Winifred for the rest of her career (see lot 129).

Where Ben found sculptural form and matière, Winifred opted for light and colour and even though Spring Landscape is built from sections of grey and ochre that assert the flatness of the picture plane in a way Ben would have admired, it is the colour - the bright green, the dots of yellow- that are the work's focus and joy. As the Artist herself wrote:

'In the West we are architects, we build our shapes around us, and form is so important ... that we forget colour, or use it just as a costume superimposed upon a straight-forward world ... of course colour, as part of its essential nature, changes with every fluctuation of the universe, with every vibration of light - that is what annoys us about it, its wilful disobedience ...' (quoted in Winifred Nicholson, exh. cat., Kettle's Yard, 2001, p.17)