University Art Collection

Ben Nicholson (England, 1894 – 1982)

Son of painters Mabel Pryde and William Nicholson, born in Denham, Buckinghamshire. He studied at the Slade School of Art in London and travelled widely in Europe and the United States from 1912 and 1918. He married artist Winifred Roberts in 1920 and would build a relationship with then second curator at the National Gallery of British Art (now Tate Britain), Jim Ede, who would become a supporter and purchased his early work. Throughout his first marriage, Nicholson and Roberts would divide their time between London, Cumberland, and Lugano, Switzerland.

In 1931 he remarried, this time to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth and sought refuge from the war in Cornwall, which would become his home from 1939 to 1958. This period saw the institutional recognition of Nicholson as the representative figure of British Modernism. He was both an early champion of naïve approaches to drawing and composition, as well as pioneer of abstraction and figuration in Britain. He would later marry for a third time to Felicitas Vogler, with whom he would be married until 1977.  Throughout his career he supported the development of modern aesthetics in Britain through the promotion of art groups in the UK such as the Seven and Five Society (in which Christopher Wood was also a member), the Hampstead Set, and the St Ives School. 

Image: Ben Nicholson, Tramway, Sóller1956. Pencil on paper. Donated by Jim Ede. University of Essex Art Collection.