Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art


Ben Nicholson, O.M.
signed, titled and dated dec 63 on the reverse
oil and pencil on carved board on Artist's prepared board
framed: 38 by 50.5cm.; 15 by 19¾in.; board: 36.5 by 49cm.; 14¼ by19¼in.; relief: 18 by 30cm.; 7 by 12in.
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Galerie Lopes, Zurich
Sale, Sotheby's London, 13th July 2007, lot 108, where acquired by the present owner


Bottrop, Quadrat Bottrop Moderne Galerie, Ben Nicholson, 29th October - 10th December 1989, (details untraced);
London, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Ben Nicholson: Paintings, Reliefs and Drawings, 4th April - 16th June 2012, cat. no.8.

Catalogue Note

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

Following his marriage in 1957 to Felicitas Vogler, Nicholson moved to Switzerland the following year, discovering in the mountains of the Ticino not only a new landscape but also a fresh inspiration for his work, returning to the geometric simplicity of the 1930s. The move was to herald an Indian summer for the Artist, and offered him far greater freedom than he had experienced in Britain. Living in the heart of Europe he was removed from the fractious internal politics of the British Art scene, and the various rivalries between many of his peers. The pair settled by Lago Maggiore, with its epic, rugged scenery, and built a house just outside Brissago with stunning views looking east across the lake that would continue to inspire the artist, now well into his sixties. Here also he was able to travel more extensively, and the subsequent works from this period are a catalogue of his travels, many taking on new biographical references.  

The relief works that Nicholson produced from the 1950s, and into the ‘60s and ‘70s form some of the artist’s most dramatic, sculptural work. Using a traditionally earthy palette, the artist scraped and worked the surface, intending form and colour to become one. Yet what makes the present work such a striking example is the artist’s bold use of red towards the centre of the composition. This bright dash of colour takes on added significance when considering the title of the work – dec 63 (Xmas relief). Throughout the course of his career Nicholson referenced Christmas in the title of many of his works – either in relation to the time of year that the paintings or collages were created, or relating to their being gifts from the artist to friends and patrons. One of his most celebrated examples 1930 (Christmas night) (Kettles’s Yard, Cambridge) captures the atmosphere of the festive night, including many of the traditional symbols of the Christmas period. Yet what is most interesting is the relationship between this painting and the present work, created over thirty years apart. In the earlier work the artist uses different spatial planes to construct the scene, planes that by the early 1960s and the execution of the present work become integral elements of the composition. They show that the artist, whilst continuing to explore new methods of pictorial representation in his work, never fully divorced himself from the earlier figurative style that set him on the path to become one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists.

Modern & Post-War British Art