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.
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