Feb 8-49 still-life (stone) has never been offered at auction before; having been acquired by Anthony ‘Tony’ Twentyman (1906-1988) from the Lefevre Gallery in 1950, it has since passed by descent. Anthony Twentyman is perhaps best remembered as a sculptor, however, he was also a collector of contemporary British art and his collection included works by Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham as well as Ben Nicholson. Twentyman had several sculpture exhibitions including Bear Lane Gallery, Oxford in 1964; Blenheim Palace Gardens in 1969 (grouped with Barbara Hepworth); Marjorie Parr Gallery, London in 1974 and a solo exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in 1978.
In private correspondence from Nicholson to Twentyman, regarding the purchase of Feb 8-49 still-life (stone), dating from December 1950 the artist comments on the present picture and other matters of the day, ‘I think it’s a ptg [painting] with an idea that lasts (i.e. grows) + its quietness is deceptive? Yes I always move the ptgs [paintings] in this house around – they constantly change position - a small one in this room has been 4 times in a difft [different] position this week – I think maybe this is part of working out one’s work idea – the difference between an artist + a “collector” – or at any rate the more ordinary (non-creative) type of collector. Sometime when we next meet I’ll tell you more of the inside story of the general relationship between the ‘gallery’ + the ‘artist’, ... Lefevre are particularly good in their dealings with artists. Yes I’ve often sold people ptgs [paintings] on appro [approval] usually as a result of their being interested in a photo of a ptg [painting] + providing they pay carriage + insurance I think it’s rather a good way of getting to know a ptg [painting] before deciding for or against it. The Victor Pasmore new show just opened at Redfern – he had some very small pencil drawings of sea, rocks, waves, sky he made when he was down here this summer – but perhaps he’s not showing them in this exhibition. I think he is one of few British painters with a vision that interests me. Glad to hear your work is progressing. I am “on” a 7 ft x 16 ft panel at the moment …. Yrs B.N.’
The ‘7 ft x 16 ft panel’ that Nicholson refers to is the 1951 Festival of Britain Mural. Nicholson had been approached in June 1950 to paint a large mural for the entrance to the Riverside Restaurant; the work is now in the collection of Tate, London.
Jeremy Lewison comments on Ben Nicholson’s work in the late 1940s, ‘After his move to Cornwall [in 1939] he ceased to make white reliefs, which could be interpreted as an urban art, and reintroduced subdued colours as well as brighter tones which appear to be derived from his surroundings ... The greatest impact on Nicholson's work, however, came from the move to a large studio backing onto Porthmeor Beach, St Ives in 1949. In a letter of application for the studio, Nicholson wrote that he was working in a small converted bedroom and that ‘this imposes a very definite limit on the size of paintings I can make' (letter to Philip James [Director of Art at C.E.M.A. (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts) which subsequently became the Arts Council, between 1942 and 1958], dated 24 May 1949)’ (see J. Lewison, Ben Nicholson, London, 1991, pp. 19, 20).