Ben Nicholson

NOVEMBER 11-47 (MOUSEHOLE)

NOVEMBER 11-47 (MOUSEHOLE)

1947 Ben Nicholson (1894 − 1982)

Ben Nicholson’s painting of a pretty, quiet harbour bay in weathered hues of gold, magnolia and grey, is disrupted by large abstract shapes that seem to float and hover in the plane. The bay is the tiny harbour of Mousehole, pronounced ‘Mowzel’, which lies on the coast of Cornwall; and those flat shapes included on the right-hand side of the painting form elements of a still life. This part of the picture is very similar to 1945 (still life) (1945),(1) a sombre grouping of cups with elegant looping handles, a bottle and perhaps some plates, which recalls the Cubist arrangement of perspectives in the style of Georges Braque or Pablo Picasso. Whilst marrying together two of Nicholson’s preferred genres of painting – still life and landscape – additionally, one can see in this painting echoes of Nicholson’s staunchly Modernist abstractions, such as the spartan, monochrome ‘White Reliefs’ of squares and circles that were begun in the 1930s.

What binds the incongruous elements in this painting together are the colours and the textures of the paint. There is, unsurpris¬ingly, a marked contrast in the use of colour and light between Nicholson’s paintings in Cornwall, where he moved with his wife, Barbara Hepworth, at the start of World War II, and those painted in Cumberland in the north of England in the 1920s, which are dark, bright and rich. 11 November 1947 (Mousehole) typifies the palette for which Nicholson’s landscapes became best known: pale, golden and ochre hues. These were undoubtedly affected by the light qualities of the glinting Cornish sea and salt-blown countryside, and in this painting the colours of the still life appear borrowed from the landscape. Putty-coloured elements from the rocks and pavements around the har¬bour are seen on part of the bottle and several of the square, interlock¬ing planes, along with the tones of chalky rocky white from the cliffs, and other browns and golden sand colours from the earth. The sea, a tone of whitish duck-egg blue, almost touching on amethyst in places, reappears right at the centre of the still life’s composition.

The textures, too, are significant, binding each of the separate elements together. There are several areas of thin paint which appear to have been roughly scrubbed away, so that the ruddy canvas shows through. Whilst an emphasis on the handmade and craft tradition may certainly have been influenced by Nicholson’s relationship with naïve painter Alfred Wallis, who lived nearby, this painting is a perfect example of what Chris Stephens has termed Nicholson’s ‘domestication’ of the English landscape. Nicholson compared his manner of working with the memory of his mother scrubbing the kitchen table, revealing his determination ‘to show that the making of art was ordinary and domestic, as essential as housework’.(2) Bringing together the objects of the home, and integrating them with the landscape, Nicholson human¬ises the sublime with small boats as part of an intimate, huddled scaling that wraps itself around the viewer.

Since 1940, with 1940 (St Ives, version 2),(3) Nicholson had been creating a series of works in which still life paintings were intertwined with landscapes, generally using the device of a group of objects placed near a window. In Mousehole, one might not, at first glance, recognise the overlapping foreground shapes as still life objects – it simply looks as though elements of the landscape have come forth and arranged themselves into a new vortex of physical forms, or abstract impressions. This notion might be illuminated by Nicholson’s comment some years later: ‘All the “still lifes” are in fact land-sea-sky scapes to me.’(4)

LMF

1. Tate Collection, London.
2. Chris Stephens, introduction to A Continuous Line: Ben Nicholson in England, exh. cat. (London: Tate, 2008), 12.
3. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.
4. Letter from Nicholson to Patrick Heron (9 February 1954), quoted in Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, exh. cat. (London: Tate Gallery, 1993), 86.

Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009

  • Accession Number P78
  • Dimensions 46.5 X 58.5 CM
  • Media OIL ON CANVAS MOUNTED ON WOOD

Glossary (4)

  • Canvas

    A piece of cloth woven from flax, hemp or cotton fibres. The word has generally come to refer to any piece of firm, loosely woven fabric used to paint on. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground.

  • Craft

    The creation of handmade objects intended to be both useful and decorative.

  • Landscape

    Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.

  • Painting

    Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.

Past exhibitions

OUT OF BRITAIN

  • 2013
    • Romania, Bucharest, National Museum Of Art
  • 2012
    • Oman, Muscat, Bait Al Zubair Museum
    • Kuwait, Kuwait City, Contemporary Art Platform
    • Saudi Arabia, Al Kohbar, Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science & Technology Center
    • Saudi Arabia, Jeddah, Athr Gallery
    • Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, Riyadh National Museum

CONTESTED GROUND

  • 2012
    • UK, Leeds, Leeds City Art Gallery

OPENING EXHIBITION

  • 2011
    • UK, The Hepworth Wakefield

LET US FACE THE FUTURE: ART BRITÀNIC 1945-1968

  • 2010
    • Spain, Barcelona, Fundacio Joan Miro

PASSPORTS. IN VIAGGIO CON L'ARTE

  • 2009
    • Italy, Milan, Padglione D'arte Contemporanea

A CONTINUOUS LINE BEN NICHOLSON IN ENGLAND

  • 2009
    • UK, St Ives, Tate St Ives
  • 2008
    • UK, Bexhill-On-Sea, De La Warr Pavilion
    • UK, Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery

FROM DESTRUCTION TO ABSTRACTION BRITISH ART IN THE 1940S AND 1950S

  • 2008
    • Syria, Damascus, University Of Damascus

BRITISH VISION OBSERVATION AND IMAGINATION IN BRITISH ART 1750-1950

  • 2007
    • Belgium, Ghent, Museum Voor Schone Kunsten

CREATING A SPLASH: THE FIRST 25 YEARS OF THE ST IVES SOCIETY OF ARTISTS

  • 2004
    • UK, Sunderland, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens
  • 2003
    • UK, Doncaster, Doncaster Museum And Art Gallery
    • UK, Lincoln, Usher Art Gallery
    • UK, Penzance, Penlee House Gallery & Museum

BLAST TO FREEZE: BRITISCHE KUNST IM 20. JAHRHUNDERT

  • 2003
    • France, Toulouse, Les Abattoirs
  • 2002
    • Germany, Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum

BEN NICHOLSON

  • 2002
    • Spain, Valencia, Ivam Centre Julio Gonzalez

BEN NICHOLSON

  • 1994
    • France, St Etienne, Musee D'art Moderne
  • 1993
    • UK, London, Tate Gallery

COASTLINES

  • 1992
    • Belgium, Brussels, Breydel Building, EEC Commission

FOR A WIDER WORLD

  • 1991
    • Argentina, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes
    • Bulgaria, Sofia, Cyril Methodius Foundation
    • Belgium, Luxembourg, Musee National D'histoire Et D'art
  • 1990
    • Ussr, Kiev, Ukrainian Museum Of Fine Art

ST IVES 1939-64: TWENTY FIVE YEARS OF PAINTING, SCULPTURE AND POTTERY

  • 1989
    • Japan, Tokyo, Kobe, Kamakura
  • 1985
    • UK, London, Tate Gallery

L'ART EN EUROPE 1946-53

  • 1987
    • France, St Etienne, Musee D'art Moderne

LOOKING WEST PAINTINGS INSPIRED BY WEST CORNWALL FROM THE 1880S TO THE PRESENT DAY

  • 1987
    • UK, London, Royal College Of Art
    • UK, Penzance, Newlyn Art Gallery

BEN NICHOLSON

  • 1987
    • Portugal, Lisbon, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
    • Spain, Madrid, Fundacion Juan March

SHIP SHAPE 1880-1980

  • 1980
    • Wales, Swansea, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery

BEN NICHOLSON FIFTY YEARS OF HIS ART

  • 1979
    • USA, Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum
  • 1978
    • USA, Washington, Hirschhorn Museum
    • USA, Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery

BEN NICHOLSON RETROSPECTIVE DE L'OEUVRE GRAPHIQUE 1925-1969

  • 1978
    • France, Strasbourg, Musees Municipaux, Cabinet Des Estampes
    • France, Chartres, Musee Des Beaux-Arts
    • France, Nantes, Musee Des Beaux Arts
  • 1977
    • France, Bordeaux, Galerie Des Beaux-Arts
    • France, Calais, Musee Des Beaux-Arts Et De La Dentelle
    • France, Rouen, Musee Des Beaux-Arts
    • France, Montbeliard, Musee Du Chateau
    • France, Les Sables-D'olonne, Musee De L'abbaye Sainte-Croix

DECADE 40'S

  • 1973
    • Scotland, Aberdeen, Aberdeen Art Gallery And Museum
    • UK, Bradford, Bradford City Art Gallery
    • UK, Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery
    • UK, Durham, DLI Museum & Art Centre
    • UK, Carlisle, Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery
  • 1972
    • UK, Southampton, Southampton City Art Gallery
    • UK, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery

BRITISK MALERI 1945-1970

  • 1972
    • Poland, Poznan, Museum Narodowe
    • Poland, Krakow, Museum Narodowe
    • Poland, Warsaw, Museum Narodwe Warszawie
    • Norway, Bergen, Kunstforeningen
    • Norway, Oslo, Kunstnerforbundet
    • Norway, Trondheim, Kunstforening

BRITISH PAINTINGS 1945-1970

  • 1972
    • Poland, Krakow, Museum Narodowe
    • Poland, Poznan, Museum Narodowe
    • Poland, Warsaw, Museum Narodwe Warszawie
    • Norway, Bergen, Kunstforeningen
    • Norway, Trondheim, Kunstforening
    • Norway, Oslo, Kunstnerforbundet

BEN NICHOLSON

  • 1969
    • UK, London, Tate Gallery

CONTEMPORARY BRITISH PAINTING 1900-1962

  • 1964
    • Romania, Palace Of Culture
    • Romania, Bucharest, National Gallery
    • Slovakia, Bratislava, Mirbach Palace & Palffy Palace
    • Czechoslovakia, Prague, ULUV Exhibition Hall
  • 1963
    • Hungary, Budapest, Ernst Museum

JELENKORI BRIT FESTESZET

  • 1963
    • Hungary, Budapest, Ernst Museum

BEN NICHOLSON

  • 1961
    • Switzerland, Berne, Kunsthalle

VI EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE DES ARTISTES PEINTRES ET AMATEURS D'ART

  • 1959
    • Tunisia, Tunis, Maison Associations Culturelles

CONTEMPORARY BRITISH PAINTING

  • 1959
    • Mauritius, Mauritius
  • 1958
    • South Africa, Port Elizabeth, King George VI Art Gallery
    • Dar Es Salaam
    • Rhodesia, Ndola
    • Uganda, Kampala, British Council Office - Kampala
  • 1957
    • Kenya, Mombassa, Mombassa
    • Kenya, Nairobi, National Gallery And Museum
    • Zanzibar
    • Blantyre-Limbe
    • Moshi

BEN NICHOLSON

  • 1955
    • UK, London, Tate Gallery
    • Switzerland, Zurich, Kunsthaus
    • Belgium, Brussels, Palais Des Beaux-Arts De Bruxelles
    • France, Paris, Musee National D'art Moderne
  • 1954
    • Netherlands, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum

BRITISH ART TODAY: 10 ENGLISH PAINTERS

  • 1953
    • Sweden, Stockholm, Bildande Konst
    • Sweden, Goteborg, Konstmuseum, Konsthallen

BEN NICHOLSON

  • 1951
    • USA, Washington, Duncan Phillps Art Gallery
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