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Ben Nicholson: From the Studio

[ Exhibition )

Painting by Ben Nicholson depicting coloured shapes based on abstract still life of bottles & glasses against a grey background.

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

An intimate look at Ben Nicholson's everyday inspirations

Throughout his career, Ben Nicholson (1894 – 1982) transformed everyday homewares into extraordinary experiments in abstract art.

Nicholson’s studio was filled with objects that inspired him. From patterned mocha-ware jugs and cut glass goblets to spanners, hammers and chisels, these ordinary personal possessions were a source of almost endless inspiration to the artist.

This exhibition brought together for the first time Nicholson’s paintings, reliefs, prints and drawings alongside his rarely seen personal possessions and studio tools. It traced how the artist’s style developed, from his early traditional tabletop still lifes to his later abstract works.

Still life was at the heart of Nicholson’s artistic practice. Through these humble items, he began to experiment with form and colour. His early works in particular owed inspiration to his father, the painter William Nicholson.

The exhibition also traced the artistic and personal influences on Nicholson’s evolutionary still life style from the 1920s to the 1970s. It explored his time with Winifred Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, as well as his encounters with other Modernist greats, Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian.

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But of course I owe a lot to my father – especially to his poetic idea and his still-life theme … not only from what he did as a painter but from the very beautiful striped and spotted jugs and mugs and goblets, and octagonal and hexagonal glass objects which he collected. Having those things throughout the house was an unforgettable early experience for me.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson from the studio book

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Ben Nicholson: From the Studio contains essays written by the exhibition’s curator Louise Weller and Nicholson expert Dr Lee Beard as well as a new study on the architecture of Nicholson’s studios from Professor Louise Campbell (author of Studio Lives: Architect, Art and Artist in 20th Century Britain) and a poetic response to the themes of the exhibition by writer and potter Edmund de Waal.

Accompanied by over a hundred full colour photographs of Nicholson’s work and new photography of the mochaware, glassware and other household items, this is a beautiful and fascinating insight into Nicholson’s work.

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Portrait of a woman with close cropped hair looking to the left of the painting. She cradles a baby in her arms, who is staring directly at the viewer.

A Private Family Portrait: Ben Nicholson and his Artist Relatives Posted on Thu 29 July 2021

Alice Strang explores the artistic legacy of the Nicholson family using works from our collection of Modern British art.


Read more on our blog


Exhibition supporters

This exhibition included loans from private and national collections including several works from National Galleries Scotland and Pier Arts Centre, supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund.

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on