Lot 20
  • 20

BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. July 1960 (green and black)

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
406,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • After Ben Nicholson
  • July 1960 (green and black)
  • signed and titled on the reverse
  • oil on canvasboard laid down on the Artist's prepared board


Galleria Lorenzelli (Bruno Lorenzelli), Milan, where acquired by the previous owner in 1960
Their sale, Sotheby's London, 25th October 2000, lot 81, where acquired by the present owner


Milan, Galleria Lorenzelli, Ben Nicholson, 1960 (details untraced);
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Pittura moderna straniera nelle collezioni private Italiane (details untraced).

Catalogue Note

‘The kind of painting which 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 and colour...’ (Ben Nicholson, ‘Notes on “Abstract Art”, 1948, quoted in Peter Khoroche, Ben Nicholson: Drawings and Painted Reliefs, Lund Humphries, Aldershot and Burlington, 2002, p.90).

We are grateful to Dr Lee Beard for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.

The genre of still-life was at the heart of Ben Nicholson’s practice, from his earliest work in the 1920s through to the 1960s, when he produced July 1960 (green and black) and beyond. His father, the acclaimed painter Sir William Nicholson, was famously a master of the genre and Ben credited his father for the early interest: ‘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… but from my father’ (Ben Nicholson quoted in The Sunday Times, 28th April 1963). Despite the generous attribution of his success to his father, Nicholson’s exposure to Cubism in Paris in the 1920s and the 1930s, and his friendship with Georges Braque played a significant role in his continual return to the genre. The interlocking shapes and stylised lines of the table top objects in July 1960 (green and black) clearly allude to Cubist influences and more specifically to Picasso and Braque’s Synthetic Cubism that they developed together in the first decade of the 20th Century. Though much of his work in the 1960s was focused on the landscape, his interest in still-lifes was unwavering and he worked on both themes in tandem. Nicholson’s third wife, the photographer Felicitas Volger, whom he married in 1957, took numerous photographs of Nicholson’s collection of vessels placed in perfect formation against a backdrop of the rugged Swiss landscape (see fig.1) or positioned in front of Nicholson’s own works.


A table-top composition, July 1960 (green and black) perfectly exemplifies Nicholson’s project to take this most traditional of genres and make it distinctively his own and unabashedly avant-garde. July 1960 (green and black) is simultaneously sparse but detailed and rich in texture, rigidly formal whilst remaining decorative and sensuous. Nicholson’s multitude of artistic concerns are synthesised into a work of restraint and bravura. The colour Nicholson uses is translucent – as A.M. Hammacher wrote in 1966, ‘His colour is wraith-like, filmy and unsubstantial, like a glimpse of light on the threshold of a new-born world. No bright reds or bright yellows, no bright blues here. His colours are either on the verge of brightness or caught in the act of disappearing.’ (A.M. Hammacher, ‘The Recent Ben Nicholson’ in Ben Nicholson Recent Work, exh. cat. Galerie Gimpel & Hanover, 1966, unpaginated). Minute modulations of colour unfold across the composition, as white turns into cream, cream to grey, grey to brown, enlivened by the assured strokes that constitute the dense black contours outlining the table and objects, with the gloriously voluptuous curl of a handle that curves through the centre of the piece. Whilst at first glance the work seems austere, A.M. Hammacher summarised the lushness unfolding upon sustained attention to the composition: ‘In my imagination I see before me a violinist, the arm, the wrist, the fingers, all trained to perfection, producing the graceful lines of an invisible music.’ (A.M. Hammacher, ibid).


With muted colours, the texture of the surface of the work takes prominence and the very process of the making of July 1960 (green and black) is written into the final painting. The grain of the support is visible and integral to the overall effect with Nicholson rubbing thin layers of oil paint into the canvas and board and then scrapping away to create a work of immense tonal depth and tactile appeal.