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1946 (still life - cerulean), Ben Nicholson

Collage of different shapes in different colours by Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson, 1946 (still life – cerulean), Oil on canvas over board, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Kearley Bequest, through Art Fund, 1989) © Angela Verren Taunt. All rights reserved, DACS 2021

At a glance

Artist: Ben Nicholson

Date: 1946

Materials: Oil on canvas over board

Acquisition: Kearley Bequest through Art Fund (1989)

During the 1930s Ben Nicholson produced an iconic series of white reliefs which were emblematic of the ideas of purity and order of the modern movement. In the immediate post-war years, it was colour and form that was to be the subject of his art and the impetus for a series of abstracted cubistic tabletop still lifes, which were strongly influenced by the Synthetic Cubism of Juan Gris.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and their three children moved to Carbis Bay Cornwall. The unique climate and landscape of Cornwall profoundly influenced Nicholson’s approach to painting, he described his works of this period as ‘still life-landscapes’.

In this painting, the opaque colours of the densely clustered objects contrast with the stone-grey ground to create a sense of space, despite the flattening of foreground objects and background. The interplay of different areas is created by including a notional curtain on the left-hand side, framing the abstracts shapes like a view from a window. These sharp-edged colours, including the sky-blue ‘cerulean’ of the title, appear as if collaged rather than painted.

Still-life painting was a fundamental part of Ben Nicholson’s practice. He returned again and again to the everyday objects he collected in his studio – mugs, jugs, glasses – in order to develop his own visual language, and experiment with form and colour. In the catalogue for Nicholson’s 1978 exhibition ‘recent paintings on paper’, Christopher Neve reflected on the artist’s lifetime commitment to the objects that remained at the core of his work: “In his London studio… he has continued to experiment with permutations of the objects he has accumulated. They have moved about with him… They are integral parts of Nicholson’s language and background.”