Lot 175
  • 175

Ben Nicholson, O.M.

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Ben Nicholson, O.M.
  • april 56 (Tregeseal 2)
  • signed, titled, dedicated for HERTA WESCHER and inscribed on an Artist's label attached to the reverse
  • oil on carved board
  • 40 by 34.5cm.; 15¾ by 13½in.


Herta Wescher, Paris
Sale, Sotheby's London, 3rd December 2003, lot 59
Beaux Arts Gallery, London
Simon Capstick-Dale Fine Art, London, where acquired by a Private Collector
Gifted from the above to the present owner, May 2005


John Russell, Ben Nicholson, Thames and Hudson, London, 1969, p.310, illustrated no.82.

Catalogue Note

The 1950s were a decade of substantial achievement for Ben Nicholson, marking his considerable and growing international success. In 1954, he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale and won the prestigious Ulisse award, with the selected works subsequently touring to Amsterdam, Paris and Zurich. Solo shows in Europe followed in quick succession, and in 1955, Nicholson was given his first Tate retrospective, a highly significant accomplishment. Further accolades followed, including in 1956 a Guggenheim award: first prize in the International Guggenheim Painting Competition. 

The present work was created in 1956, when Nicholson was still living in St Ives, his home since 1939: he was to move to Switzerland with his new wife Felicitas Vogler in 1958. St Ives became an important source of inspiration for the artist: as Norbert Lynton states, 'with every day Ben Nicholson’s sense of light, colour and space - and probably also of movement - was refreshed by his experience of sky, land and sea' (Norbert Lynton, Ben Nicholson, Phaidon Press, London, 1993, p.187). Almost from the moment he arrived, he began to turn away from the severity and purity of previous works, and his output both expanded in subject matter, and relaxed in style. Whilst earlier reliefs and paintings were dominated by areas of pure, unmodulated colour in more strictly geometric, abstract compositions, once in Cornwall his work began to appear more organic, as a pared-back palette and a preoccupation with natural surfaces began to emerge. 

The inspiration for the present work is evident from its title: Tregeseal is the name of a Cornish village, just outside St. Just on the wind-wracked tip of the Cornish peninsula, about five miles north of Land’s End. The area is best-known for the prehistoric stone circle which stands nearby; of the three which are thought to have once stood on the hillside to the south of Carn Kenidjack, only one remains, the Tregeseal East Stone Circle, also known as the Dancing Stones, or the Nine Maidens (fig.1). It is a circle of nineteen granite blocks, and must have been known to Nicholson, who created several works which reference Tregeseal, including Oct 57 (Tregeseal 3). 

The influence of the Cornish landscape is redolent in april 56 (Tregeseal 2): the muted palette is one of natural tones, recalling wood or stone, the white perhaps the bright light of St Ives which has been so praised by generations of artists who have worked there. Nicholson’s technique of building up and working into the relief also speaks of this rugged environment: the board has been scrubbed and scoured, recalling the coarse granite of the standing stones at Tregeseal, but also the wider landscape; the harsh coastal cliffs, the grainy sand of coves and inlets, or the worn and bleached driftwood swept up by the sea. The composition also seems suffused with the spirit of the ‘Dancing Stones’: the board has been carved at jaunty angles, suggesting the slightly uneven tilt of the stones, whilst the viewer’s eye is invited to travel round the composition in a circular motion, a spiral which culminates in the central dark brown square. By rendering the present work in his highly individual, modernist vocabulary, Nicholson has created a work which speaks at once of both the specific - the textures and landmarks of Cornwall - but also to a universal audience.