Over the years I have come to enjoy looking at the work of Ben Nicholson. It wasn’t always that way, when I was a young art student in the early 80’s his work was deeply unfashionable. Far better to peer over the Atlantic and to dream of being a New York artist, painting huge canvasses and acting mean.
Poor Ben, he has had a right battering over the years, at least in some quarters. Fortunately this has eased following recent shows at the De La Warr Pavilion and last years beautiful “Mondrian || Nicholson: In Parallel” at the Courtauld in London.
A photograph that always makes me chuckle records the moment when Nicholson and his friend artist Christopher Wood “discovered” Alfred Wallis. Wallis was an old retired mariner living in St Ives. He took up painting “for company”. You can see a great collection of Wallis’s naive marine paintings, (which, nonetheless had a major influence on 20th century art) at the lovely Kettles Yard Gallery in Cambridge.http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/.
Ben Nicholson studied at the Slade School of Art from 1910-14 alongside some of the other great artists to emerge from that period, including; Stanley Spencer, Edward Wadsworth and Paul Nash. Nash became a good friend of Nicholson and his wife Winifred who was also an artist (Kettles Yard currently have an exhibition of her beautiful work). When Nicholson visited Paul and Margaret Nash at their cottage in Dymchurch in 1923, the two artists walked along the seawall (as Nash was prone to do most days) the outcome of the walk was, as far, as I am aware, Ben Nicholson’s only painting of Dymchurch beach. The painting is in a modern and almost abstract style, but it certainly evokes the atmosphere and colours of the beach at low tide.
Nash admired the modern style of Nicholsons’ work, which was influenced by developments in European painting at the time. He spoke highly of Nicholsons work and was supportive of what was a very modern style of painting at that time.
Perhaps if Nicholson had stayed in Dymchurch a bit longer we would have been treated to more of how he saw our lovely beach.