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Biography of Ben Nicholson

Photo of Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson was a twentieth century abstract artist known for his pioneering techniques.

When and Where was he Born?

10th April 1894, Eight Bells, Denham, Buckinghamshire, England.

Family Background:

Ben Nicholson was the son of Sir William Nicholson, also an artist, and Mabel Pryde.


Tyttenhangar Lodge Preparatory School, Seaford. Heddon Court, Hampstead. Greshams School, Holt. Slade School of Fine art, London.

Timeline of Ben Nicholson:

1894: The Nicholson family moves to Bedford Park, Chiswick to be nearer to member of the Pryde family.

1896: The family moves to 1 Avonmore Gardens, West Kensington, London.

1897: The family moves to Elm Lodge, Mitcham, Surrey. Birth of brother Anthony.

1898: The family moves to Chaucer’s House Woodstock.

1899: Birth of Nicholson’s sister Annie Mary.

1904: The family moves to 1 Pilgrim’s Lane, Hampstead, London. He meets J. M. Barrie on holiday in Rustington, Sussex and Nicholson does a poster for “Peter Pan”.

1906: The family moves to 38 Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury, London.

1910: Nicholson meets Paul Nash at the Slade School of Fine Arts.

1911: He stays with the Nash family in Iver Heath.

1912: He visits Tours in France to learn French.

1914: Nicholson travels with his mother to Madeira for health reasons. On the Outbreak of the First World War he is exempted from military service due to asthma. In October he exhibits “A Jug” at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in London. Moves into rooms in 110 Heath Street, Hampstead.

1915: He moves to the King’s Road, Chelsea. Exhibits again at the Grosvenor Gallery.

1916: Nicholson meets the Poet Robert Graves at Harlech.

1917: He travels to New York in October and has an operation on his tonsils. Travels to Chicago, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.

1918: Wedding of his sister Nancy and the writer Robert Graves. He discovers Christian Science. Death of his mother during the Flu Epidemic. He arrives back in England in September.

1919: Nicholson exhibits at the Grosvenor Gallery, London.

1920: He marries Winnifred Roberts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London. They honeymoon in Venice, Florence, Rome, Amalfi, Pisa, Naples and Portofino. Thoughts of settling in Italy are dispelled as it is too “dirty”. He buys a house, the Villa Capriccio, at Castagnolo in Switzerland.

1921: He is influenced by a Picasso painting which he sees at Paul Rosenberg’s studio in Paris.

1922: David Bomberg and his wife stay with the Nicholsons at Villa Capriccio.

1923: He returns to England after trying to sell the villa. He finally buys a farmhouse called Banks Head at Banks, near Brampton in Cumberland.

1924: Nicholson’s first one-man show is held at the Adelphi Gallery. He paints his first abstract paintings and spends a lot of time in London whilst Winifred remains in Cumberland. He becomes a member of the Seven and Five Society after being nominated by Ivon Hitchens.

1925: He sees the Raphael drawings at the Ashmoleum Museum in Oxford. Exhibits at the Lefevre Gallery in London.

1926: He exhibits in the Seven and Five Society Exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery and is now living in Chelsea for most of the time. He spends Christmas at Banks Head.

1927: Nicholson begins painting in his primitive landscape style. He meets the ballet dancer and choreographer Leonide Massine. Winifred injures herself whilst pregnant in April at the Beaux Arts Gallery falling through a trap door. She makes a full recovery and their first son Jake is born in June.

1928: He spends time in London and at Banks Head and also travels to Cornwall to find lodgings. Nicholson and Christopher Wood discover Alfred Wallis, the old fisherman painter in St. Ives during August.

1929: Birth of Nicholson’s daughter Kate in July.

1930: He holds a one man show at the Lefevre Gallery, London. He exhibits in Paris during May with Christopher Wood. Winnifred gives up painting for a short time to concentrate on writing stories. Death of Christopher Wood on 1st August.

1931: John Skeaping, the Husband of Barbara Hepworth, exhibits as a non member with Nicholson in the Seven and Five Society exhibition at the Leicester Galleries. Birth of son Andrew in July. In September he visits Barbara Hepworth at Happisburgh in Norfolk where they are renting a cottage and also sees Henry Moore.

1932: As his relationship with Winifred is waning since meeting with Hepworth he needs to earn his own money and not rely on Winifred’s inherited wealth. He therefore takes on a pupil. He exhibits in Hamburg in June and spends Christmas in Paris with Winifred.

1933: Nicholson meets the Cubist, Georges Braque in Paris and also Man Ray and Alberto Giacometti. In November he shares an exhibition with Hepworth at the Lefevre Gallery. He meets the Dutch Painter Piet Mondrian in Paris.

Relief. 1934. Tate Gallery
Relief. 1934. Tate Gallery

1934: He designs a poster for Imperial Airways after experiencing his first flight from Paris to London. He also exhibits at the Venice Biennale.

1935: Nicholson exhibits at the Exposition Internationale d’Art Moderne in Brussels.

1936: He exhibits in the “Abstract and Concrete” exhibition in Oxford alongside Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Jean Arp and Naum Gabo. He exhibits in the “Cubism and Abstract Art” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

1937: He exhibits in Chicago.

1938: He exhibits at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam but considers taking a job as a commercial artist for two days a week because money is tight. Winifred and Nicholson finally divorce. He marries Barbara Hepworth at Hampstead Register Office on 17th November.

1939: Nicholson exhibits at the London Gallery. In August he and Hepworth visit Little Park Owles, Carbis Bay, Cornwall and with the outbreak of the Second World War they decide to stay there. Naum Gabo takes up residence nearby. He takes the painter Peter Lanyon on as a pupil before he is called up to join the Royal Air Force.

1940: He holds several exhibitions at the Lefevre Gallery. The Tate Gallery except a gift from the Contemporary Art Society of “1933 (guitar) (no 38)” the first Nicholson in a national collection.

1941: He works in the Home Guard answering telephone calls during the night.

1942: He exhibits at the R.B.A. Galleries in the Mall in London. An album of photographs of the work of Hepworth and Nicholson is bought by the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1943: Nicholson joins the St. Ives Society of Artists and begins to exhibit frequently.

1944: A retrospective of his work is held by Leeds City Galleries at Temple Newsam

1945: Nicholson has a Solo Exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery. He finds post war London oppressive and decides to stay in Cornwall.

1946: He exhibits in Boston, U.S.A.

1947: Nicholson is involved in four separate British Council exhibitions which tour Europe.

1948: Penguin publishers finally bring out their book on Nicholson during July.

1949: Nicholson and Hepworth break away from the St. Ives Society of Artists and start up the rival Penwith Society of Arts and invite Herbert Read to become President. He holds his first one man show in New York. Death of his father on 16th May.

1950: He begins regular trips to Italy. Hepworth is selected for the Venice Biennale over Nicholson and this puts a further strain on their now difficult relationship. He is commissioned to paint a mural for the Riverside Gallery which is on the Festival of Britain site. He exhibits in Philadelphia and New Zealand.

1951: He holds a solo show at the Durlacher Gallery in New York. He is included in “Surrealisme et Abstraction” show in Brussels and the Stedelijk, Amsterdam with other works from Peggy Guggenheim’s collection. He is divorced from Barbara Hepworth.

1952: He holds a solo show at the Lefevre Gallery and is commissioned to paint a mural for the Time Life Building in New Bond Street, London. He represents Britain in the “International Art Exhibition” in Tokyo.

1953: Nicholson is selected for the Venice Biennale with Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. The show moves on to the Tate Gallery.

1954: He holds a one man show in Brussels where he wins the award of “show of the year” by the critics.

1955: He holds a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery.

1956: He exhibits in Edinburgh and a British Council touring exhibition.

1957: Nicholson visits the U.S.A. to collect the Guggenheim Prize. He resigns membership of the Penwith Society of Arts. He exhibits in Tokyo and New Delhi. He marries Felicitas Vogler, in July a German photographer.

1958: He leaves for Switzerland with his new wife. They settle in a house called Casa Ticinella with views of Lake Maggiore. They then move on to a bigger house, the Casa Vecchia in Ronco. He is offered an honorary doctorate by the University of Birmingham but says he will only accept if he does not have to receive it in person.

1959: He holds a one man show in Dusseldorf.

1960: Work begins on his house, Casa alla Rocca at Gadero, Brissago on Lake Maggiore

1961: He holds a retrospective exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Berne.

1962: He exhibits at the World’s Fair in Seattle and has a solo show in Zurich.

1963: Nicholson has a one man shows at the Marlborough Gallery and Gimpel Fils in London. He visits Graham Sutherland in Menton.

1964: He holds a retrospective exhibition in Dallas and travels to Portugal and the Cote d’Azure. He exhibits at the Pittsburgh International.

1965: Nicholson declines the award of Companion of Honour.

1966:He visits Crete and Venice. there is a solo show at Gimpel and Hanover Gallery in Zurich.

1967: He holds a solo show in Hanover, Munich and Berlin and tours the Greek Islands with, amongst others, Victor Passmore.

1968: He is awarded the Order of Merit but declines the Freedom of St. Ives. He exhibits in Berne and Basle and visits the Venice Biennale. In October he contributes to “Artists for Czechoslovakia” at the Camden Arts Centre in London.

1970: Nicholson declines an Honorary Doctorate from Cambridge University. He exhibits drawings at the Marlborough Gallery with Mondrian.

1971: He agrees to live apart from his wife as he needs to return to England and moves to Cambridge. He meets and works with Angela Verren-Taunt

1972: He declines the Honorary Doctor of Art degree by the Royal College of Art and tours Greece with Verren-Taunt.

1973: He holds a one man show at Gimpel Fils Gallery, London and in Basle. He travels to Cyprus with Verren-Taunt and they have a drawing holiday in Wharefdale, Yorkshire and they also visit the Cotswolds and Compton Winyates in Warwickshire.

1974: Nicholson receives the Rembrandt Prize from the Goethe Foundation. He visits Tuscany and moves to live in Hampstead, London.

1975: He holds a solo show in Zurich and visits Tuscany again. He goes on another drawing trip to Yorkshire. Barbara Hepworth dies in a fire in her studio.

1976: He holds a one man show in Rome and at the Waddington Galleries. He visits Tuscany in Italy and holds an exhibition of prints at the Tate Gallery.

1977: He spends time drawing in Yorkshire and holds a solo show in Osaka, Japan. His divorce from Vogler is finally sorted out.

1978: He spends a week in Yorkshire with Verren-Taunt. and holds solo exhibitions in London.

1980: He holds solo shows in Budapest and London.

1981: Nicholson develops problems with his sight.

1982: He holds solo shows at the Art Center in Tokyo and the Waddington Galleries in London. He is included in “Circle: Constructive Art in Britain 1934-40” at the Kettle’s Yard Gallery in Cambridge.

When and Where did he Die?

6th February 1982, at home at Pilgrim’s Lane, Hampstead, London, England of natural causes.

Age at Death:



  1. 5th November 1920 to Winnifred Roberts at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London. (Divorced 1938) (Died 1981).
  2. 1938: 17th November To Barbara Hepworth at Hampstead Register Office. (Divorced 1951) (Died 1975).
  3. July 1957 to Felicitas Vogler, a German photographer. (Divorced 1977).

Site of Grave:

Cremated. Ashes scattered over Golders Green Cemetery in the absence of instructions from his family.

Places of Interest:


Bristol City Art Gallery.


Tate Gallery, St. Ives.


Abbot Art Gallery, Kendal.


Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester.


Civic Art Gallery, Southampton.


The Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham.


Tate Britain.


Pallant House, Chichester, West Sussex.
Firle Place, Lewes, East Sussex.


Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.


Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry.


Art Collection, THe University of Hull.
Ory Art Gallery, Leeds.
Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield.
Art Gallery, Wakefield.


Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.
Aberdeen Art Gallery.
Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney Islands.


Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast.