On 25 August 1939, the day of the Anglo-Polish treaty, Ben Nicholson with Barbara Hepworth, their young triplets, the nanny and the cook, left London for Carbis Bay in Cornwall. Nicholson's friend Adrian Stokes and his new wife Margaret Mellis had offered their home as a sanctuary if war broke out, an event which occured only a few days later. Stokes immediately gave his studio over to Ben for his use, and the family stayed on at Little Park Owles until the situation of so many different temperaments living under one roof became untenable. Adrian Stokes offered to pay for the family to rent a house nearby, in return for Nicholson giving him pieces of work, and after four months the Nicholson-Hepworth clan moved out to Dunluce. They persuaded the Gabos to join them from Hampstead and the family stayed throughout the war years; indeed Barbara Hepworth never moved away from Cornwall again.
For Ben it was a return to Cornwall, which he had visited in 1928 with his first wife Winifred, and it prompted him to turn to landscape again, a departure from his abstracted work that he was encouraged to pursue by his then dealer, McNeill Reid of the Lefevre Gallery. He told Nicholson to produce more pictures like ''Halse Town, Cornwall, Version I [the present work] since people find that it conveys the feeling of Cornwall plus all the ideas and sensibility of Ben Nicholson; whereas Version II seems to give the impression of a somewhat naive arrangement of shapes without relation to anything else in particular' (letter of February 1940, quoted by V. Button, loc. cit.). Moreover in December 1939, Nicholson had told Paul Nash that he was working on 'one or two Cornish best-selling schemes' as he now responded to the beauty of a landscape threatened by war: 'The country here is very lovely & it's so many years since I lived in the country and with all these majestic mines and dictators left & right one never knows if each marvellous thing ones sees may not be the last time one sees it and so it becomes very intense - I used to have one or two dreams recurring annually about the sea - I always thought the stories were overdone & the drama & the terrific intense colour - but the real thing has been much more so' (letter 4 December 1939, quoted by V. Button, loc. cit., p. 59).
Peter Watson, the first owner of this work, was a patron of the arts, and the financial backer of Horizon, a magazine edited by Cyril Connolly, founded in 1939 to act as an antidote to the war. In August 1941, Watson persuaded Nicholson to write an article in defence of abstract act which was published in the magazine as Notes on Abstract Art in October 1941 (4, No. 22, p. 272-76), and which became Nicholson's third major statement after Unit One and Circle (see S.J. Checkland, Ben Nicholson, The Vicious Circles of his Life and Art, London, 2000, p. 209).