Lot 23
  • 23

Ben Nicholson

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
425,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Ben Nicholson
  • Composition
  • signed Ben Nicholson and dated 1931-36 on the canvas overlap
  • oil over pencil on canvas
  • 50.5 by 55.5cm.
  • 19 7/8 by 21 7/8 in.


David Hughes, London

Private Collection, England (acquired from the above circa 1972. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 24th June 2009, lot 18)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Painted in the 1930s, the present work is among Nicholson's most rigorously abstract canvases of this period. The grid of horizontal and vertical lines, together with the use of a primary colour palette, suggests something of the work of Piet Mondrian, whom Nicholson had met whilst visiting Paris in 1933. At the same time, the spectral silhouette of a wine glass together with the shifting background of seemingly collaged squares recalls the spliced compositions of Picasso's papiers collés. In the present work, the interrelation of form and tone can deceive; the curved contour towards the upper centre of the canvas defines both a glass and the neck of a carafe, as the neighbouring blocks of white and red hues oscillate between the foreground and the background.

Composition defines Nicholson's abstract style at its most elegant and harmonious and illustrates the artist's preoccupation with a form of abstraction that retained vestiges of its real-world inspiration. As with a number of his abstract still-lifes of the mid-1930s, Composition is the result of re-working a figurative still-life that he had created at the start of the decade. In these works Nicholson scraped back the original surface before re-painting a still-life in abstract form over the top. In the present work Nicholson leaves a square unpainted, offering a glimpse of the canvas in this pared-back state and emphasising the delicate palimpsest that lies beneath.

'The kind of painting I find exciting is not necessarily representational or non-representational, but it is both musical and architectural where the architectural construction is used to express a 'musical' relationship between form, tone, colour and whether this visual, 'musical', relationship is slightly more or less abstract is for me beside the point' (Nicholson, quoted in Norbert Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 251). Such is the uniquely lyrical manner in which Nicholson described his approach to abstract art – one which demonstrates a propensity towards the purest of abstract lines, whilst, at all times, respecting the presence of the objects which inspired his compositions.