Lot 5
  • 5

Ben Nicholson, O.M.

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Ben Nicholson, O.M.
  • Still Life with Mug Decorated with Stag
  • signed and dated 1930 on the canvas overlap
  • pencil and oil on canvas
  • 31 by 36cm; 12¼ by 14¼in.


John Torson, New York
His sale, Sotheby's London, 28th March 1962, lot 129, where acquired by Lord & Lady Attenborough 


London, Browse & Darby, William Nicholson & Ben Nicholson: Paintings & Drawings 1919-1945, 29th June - 30th July 1983, cat. no.27.


Original canvas. The canvas undulates slightly in places but otherwise appears sound. There are some very slight stretcher lines visible around the edges of the canvas. There is a very small speck of loss in the upper left quadrant. There are some scattered lines of craquelure in places, most apparent to the bowl and to the striped table cloth in the lower right quadrant. There is a very small spot of loss and lifting to the upper left edge of the bowl. There is some light surface dirt across the work. Subject to the above the work appears to be in very good overall condition. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals no obvious signs of retouching or restoration. The work is presented in a painted and gilded wooden frame with a linen slip. Please telephone 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

‘But of course I owe a lot to my father - especially to his poetic idea and to his still-life theme. That didn’t come from Cubism, as some people think, but from my father - not only from what he did as a painter but from the very beautiful striped and spotted mugs and goblets, and octagonal and hexagonal glass objects which he collected. Having those things through the house was an unforgettable early experience for me’ (The Artist, quoted in conversation with Vera and John Russell, The Sunday Times, 29th April 1963).

Painted in 1930, Still Life with Mug Decorated with Stag marks a highly pivotal moment in the development of Ben Nicholson’s style. His very early paintings closely resembled the still-lifes of his father, William Nicholson, often relying on his father’s compositions as a model, but from 1920 onwards Nicholson embarked on an intense period of travel and experimentation that resulted in a rapid development of style. He shortened his signature from Benjamin Nicholson to Ben Nicholson in this same year, perhaps alluding to his desire to abandon his father’s traditional approach to painting. Nicholson relinquished the established ideas about the quality and finish of a painting, instead exploring the treatment of the surface, the pictorial space, and the synthesis of representation and abstraction, themes evident in the present work and fundamental to his artistic practice throughout his career.

During the 1920s Nicholson became particularly good friends with Christopher Wood, whom he had first met in 1926, and together with his first wife Winifred they formed an impressive triumvirate dedicated to the pursuit of a modernist life and style. The three artists worked and corresponded closely during the latter years of the 1920s and Winifred explained that 'inspiration ran high and flew backwards and forwards from one to the other' (Winifred Nicholson, 'Blue Was His Colour', Unknown Colour, Faber & Faber, London, 1987, p.8).

The interlocking shapes and flattened perspective clearly allude to cubist influences and more specifically to Picasso and Braque's Synthetic Cubism developed in the first decades of the 20th century. Having married in 1920, Ben and Winifred travelled extensively in Europe during the early 1920s and intermediate visits to Paris during the vital years of the Kahnweiler sales in 1921 and 1923 were crucial in making the artistic trends of inter-war Paris known to them. Wood introduced even closer links to Continental modernist movements; he had lived in Paris in the early 1920s, met Picasso in 1923, Jean Cocteau in 1924, and mixed with the heady Parisian beau-monde centred around Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. In 1930, the year the present work was executed, Nicholson and Wood celebrated the end of the decade with their first joint exhibition in Paris with Bernheim Jeune, the prestigious dealers who represented art world luminaries such as Matisse and Modigliani.

The confident yet stylized line that simplifies the still life objects to their most pared down form in Still Life with Mug Decorated with Stag undoubtedly represents a climax of Nicholson's early style, consolidating the influences and lessons he had amassed throughout the previous decade.