BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)

Aug 27- 54 (St Ives)

BEN NICHOLSON, O.M. (1894-1982)
Aug 27- 54 (St Ives)
signed, inscribed and dated 'St Ives/aug 27 - 54/Ben Nicholson' (on the reverse)
oil wash and pencil on paper
12 5⁄8 x 19 7⁄8 in. (32 x 50 cm.)
Executed in August 1954.
Anonymous sale; Phillips, London, 15 November 1991, lot 83.
with Marlborough Graphics, London.
Private Collection, United Kingdom, 1994.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 12 June 2018, lot 510, where purchased by the present owner.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Elizabeth Comba
Elizabeth Comba Specialist

Lot Essay

In August 1928, Ben Nicholson made his first visit to St Ives on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall. With only a few hours at his disposal on this day trip, he recorded as many impressions as he could in a small sketch book. One of these drawings (now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) gives a partial view of the harbour, pinched between the high walls and chimneys of the crooked houses lining a steep, narrow street. The minimal lines of the architecture, though they fill most of the page, fall away to disclose the much more detailed and boldly drawn sailing boats in the harbour. While not drawn from exactly the same spot as the present work, made twenty-six years later, the format, the contrast and the idea are the same.

With his wife Barbara Hepworth and their four-year-old triplets, Nicholson went to stay with Adrian Stokes and Margaret Mellis at Carbis Bay on the southern outskirts of St Ives in August 1939. When war was declared that September they decided to remain in Cornwall and soon settled in a house nearby. St Ives was to remain Nicholson’s base for almost twenty years until he moved to Switzerland in March 1958, and the view of the harbour over a foreground of rooftops was a theme he returned to again and again in paintings and drawings of the 1940s and early 50s. By 1955 Nicholson moved into a house whose terrace looked on to the very motif that had inspired him for so many years. In a letter to Herbert Read at the time, Nicholson reflected on his surroundings: ‘It’s an absurd place, almost as if one had made it and its surroundings oneself—v. romantic and with a whole series of different levels from which one sees between rooftops the Atlantic, the Island, St Ives Bay, Godrevy and finally, from the topmost ‘lookout’ level, slap down into the harbour itself…Even its address is strange—Trezion, Salubrious Place.’ (B. Nicholson, letter to H. Read, 24 February 1955).

Aug 27-54 (St Ives) presents us with a stark contrast between the near-abstract shapes of the blank walls and rooftops in the foreground, taking up three quarters of the picture space, and the detailed ‘nursery realism’ of the harbour below, with its tightly packed quayside buildings, its boats, pier and lighthouse, fading away to low hills in the distance. The further into the drawing one’s eye goes, the more it recognises. The toy-town treatment of the harbour area is characteristic also of Nicholson’s Cornish landscapes of 1939-46 and has its origin in the illustrations to a projected but never published children’s book, based on stories he told his children about the adventures of two horses, George and Rufus, occasionally joined by a stag, Johnny. The faux naïf had always appealed to Nicholson’s sophisticated-childish temperament and provided one means of expressing his poetic realism.

From the late 1940s Nicholson applied a thin wash of oil paint to a part of each sheet of paper on which he intended to draw. He would select from his sheaf of prepared sheets one that seemed suitable for his chosen subject. This colour wash was something to which he would accommodate to his drawing, providing a starting-off point, as well as giving the finished work more body and personality than would a plain white background.

We are very grateful to Rachel Smith, Lee Beard and Peter Khoroche for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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