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Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson (April 10, 1894 - February 6, 1982), British abstract painter, was born in Denham, Buckinghamshire. His father was the painter Sir William Nicholson, and his sister Nancy Nicholson. The family moved to London in 1896.

He travelled to New York in 1917 for an operation on his tonsils, then visited other American cities, returning to England in 1918. From 1920 to 1938 he was married to the painter Winifred Nicholson and lived in London. After his first exhibition of figurative works in London in 1922, his work began to be influenced by Synthetic Cubism, and later by the primitive style of Rousseau. In London, Nicholson met the sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. On visits to Paris he met Mondrian, whose work in the neoplastic style was to influence him in an abstract direction, and Picasso, whose cubism would also find its way into his work. His gift, however, was the ability to incorporate these European trends into a new style that was recognizably his own. He first visited St. Ives, Cornwall in 1928, where he met the fisherman and painter Alfred Wallis. In Paris in 1933 he made his first wood relief, White Relief, which contained only right angles and circles. In 1934 he was one of the editors of CIRCLE, an influential monograph on constructivist art and one of the founding documents of modern art. He was also a member of the artists' group Unit One. From 1938 to 1951 he was married to Hepworth.

In 1939 Nicholson moved to St. Ives, Cornwall where a community of artists, including John Piper, soon developed. Nicholson began by painting landscapes and coloured abstract reliefs, and then turned to linear abstract paintings. He believed that abstract art should be enjoyed by the general public, as shown by the Nicholson Wall, a mural he created for the garden of Sutton Place in Guildford, Surrey. In 1943 he joined the St. Ives Society of Artists. A retrospective exhibition of his work was shown at the Tate Gallery in London in 1955.

Nicholson married the photographer Felicitas Vogler in 1957 and moved to Castagnola, Switzerland, in 1958. In 1968 he received the British Order of Merit (OM). In 1971 he separated from Vogler and moved to Cambridge. In 1977 he divorced. He died in London and was cremated at Golders Green cemetery.

Some of Nicholson's works can be seen at the Tate St Ives gallery, and at Kettle's Yard Art Gallery in Cambridge.