Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)

May 21-48 (Cat Not Under Table)

Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)
Nicholson, B.
May 21-48 (Cat Not Under Table)
signed and dated 'Ben Nicholson May 21-48' (on the stretcher)
oil and pencil on canvas mounted on masonite
37 x 42 in. (95.3 x 108.6 cm.)
Painted on 21 May 1948
Durlacher Brothers, New York.
Sele Arte, May-June 1954, no. 12 (illustrated in color).
H. Read, Ben Nicholson Paintings Reliefs Drawings, London, 1955, pl. 165 (illustrated).
London, Lefevre Gallery, Recent Paintings by Ben Nicholson, November 1948, no. 17.
New York, Durlacher Brothers, Ben Nicholson, March 1949, no. 27.
Venice, Exposition Biennale Internazionale des Beaux Arts, British Pavillion, Exhibition of Work: Ben Nicholson, Bacon, Freud, no. XXVII, June-September 1954, no. 22.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Paris, Muse d'Art Moderne; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, and Zurich, Kunsthalle, organized by the British Council, Ben Nicholson Retrospective, December 1954-May 1955, no. 31.
London, Tate Gallery, Ben Nicholson Retrospective, June-July 1955, no. 44.
New York, Museum of Modern Art; City Art Museum of St. Louis, and San Francisco, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Masters of British Painting, 1800-1950, October 1956-May 1957, no. 71 (illustrated, p. 123).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, European Masters of our Times, October-November 1957, p. 26, no. 107 (illustrated, pl. 132).

Lot Essay

Ben Nicholson's still lifes of the 1940s "show a switch away from the analytic intensity of the abstractions toward the sensuous pleasures of gay color, rich texture, and elegant linear movement. The grounds of these works are built up with several thin layers of paint that are scraped or rubbed in areas, producing a nuanced color-space that dissolves away the picture plane. Nicholson's willowy line glides through this space but now traces the silhouettes or fragments of tabletops and still life objects. Interspersed planes, some of them solidly colored, others transparent or lightly shaded, create a sense of shifting, ambiguous spatial relations. These paintings would be impossible without the prior discoveries of Cubism, and perhaps of all the Cubist painters, Juan Gris offers in his work the closest comparisons; Nicholson transformed the Cubist vocabulary, however, into a personal mode of expression more abstract, airy, and lyrical" (S. A. Nash, Ben Nicholson, Fifty Years of His Art, Buffalo, New York, 1978, p. 83). The present work was exhibited at Nicholson's critically acclaimed retrospective at the 1954 Venice Biennale, where he won the coveted Ulisse award.

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