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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BRITISH COLLECTION

Ben Nicholson
1942 (PAINTED RELIEF)
JUMP TO LOT
306

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BRITISH COLLECTION

Ben Nicholson
1942 (PAINTED RELIEF)
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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Ben Nicholson
1894 - 1982
1942 (PAINTED RELIEF)
signed Ben Nicholson, titled, dated 1942, dedicated To Michael Ventris and inscribed 47 Highpoint Highgate London N6 on the reverse
gouache on carved board
38.5 by 49cm., 15 1/4 by 19 1/4 in.
Executed in 1942.
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Provenance

Michael Ventris, United Kingdom (commissioned directly from the artist)
Anthony Nicholas (Nikki) Ventris, United Kingdom (a christening gift from the above in 1942)
Thence by descent to the present owner

Catalogue Note

1942 (painted relief) was commissioned by Michael Ventris as a christening gift to his son Anthony Nicholas (Nikki) Ventris. Michael Ventris lived in the modernist apartment block Highpoint in Highgate, London, in the 1940s, training as an architect at the Architectural Association and had a strong passion and gift for linguistics, which eventually led him to decipher the Minoan script Linear B. The Ventrises knew and collected works by Naum Gabo (who was godfather to their son), Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson. This work is an important example of Nicholson’s experimentation with painted relief works that he executed following the artist’s move to Cornwall at the end of the 1930s.  

As Jeremy Lewison has written, ‘[the] impact of the landscape on Nicholson’s work was considerable. After his move to Cornwall he ceased to make white reliefs, which could be interpreted as an urban art, and reintroduced subdued colours as well as brighter tones which appear to be derived from his surroundings’ (Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, Oxford, 1991, pp. 19-20). The two delicately contrasting tones of blue which frame the lower and right edges of the present work recall the vivid colours of the sea - an ever-present force in Nicholson’s life in Cornwall - whilst the pure white of the central areas reveals the impact of the highly distinctive light which pervades St Ives.

Discussing 1942 (painted relief) in a letter to the Ventrises on 22nd April 1942, Nicholson wrote: ‘I am v pleased you...like the p[ainte]d relief and that it fits into its setting – as I remember it the light is strong [on the] left hand side...which should bring out the incised circle – at night if the light happened to be strong...then any relief has the same feeling as a range of mountains which the sun goes round.’

Central to 1942 (painted relief), the incised white circle evokes the luminous power of the moon.  Whilst the modulating blue tones that frame the work are strongly redolent of the St Ives seascape, the colours of the coastline also figure prominently in Nicholson’s relief work in this period. Echoes operate across the relief; the blues mirror the black section and the whites are matched in shape, while a single red line punctuates the work, suggesting the bright hues of sunlight. As Nicholson suggested to Herbert Read in the year in which the present work was executed:  ‘In the new p[ain]ted reliefs...I’ve done lately there seems to be an extra almost naturalistic ‘‘reality’’ something to do with a future of shadows in & out & through sunlight...Like Greek or Tibetan temples against a land or seascape’ (quoted in ibid., p. 223). Ultimately, 1942 (painted relief) eloquently reflects the profound impact of the Cornish landscape on Nicholson’s work of this period.

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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London