Nicholson, Ben OM

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Ben Nicholson OM

1894 – 1982

Ben Nicholson was born in 1894 in Denham, Buckinghamshire, the son of the painter Sir William Nicholson. He trained as an artist in London at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1910-1914, where he was a contemporary of Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, and Edward Wadsworth.
 
From 1920 to 1933, he was married to the painter Winifred Nicholson and lived in London and Cumbria. After Nicholson’s first exhibition of figurative works in London in 1922, his work began to be influenced by Synthetic Cubism, and later by the primitive style of Rousseau. In 1926, he became chair of the Seven and Five Society.
 
In London, Nicholson met the sculptors Barbara Hepworth (to whom he was married from 1938 to 1951) and Henry Moore. On visits to Paris he met Mondrian, whose work in the neoplastic style was to influence him in an abstract direction, and Picasso, whose cubism would also find its way into his work. His gift, however, was the ability to incorporate these European trends into a new style that was recognizably his own.He later moved to Cornwall where he was instrumental in developing the so called “St Ives School.
 
In 1952 Nicholson won first prize at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh. He was awarded the first Guggenheim International painting prize in 1956, and the international prize for painting at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1957. He received the Order of Merit in 1968.

Numerous retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held, including shows at the Venice Biennale and Tate Gallery in 1954-5, Kunsthalle, Berne in 1961, Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas in 1964, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo in 1978, and Tate Gallery in 1993-4. Helped by wide international exposure in British Council tours during the 1940s and 1950s and by the championing of the writer Herbert Read, Nicholson’s work came to be seen, with Henry Moore’s, as the quintessence of British modernism.