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Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson and friends - major British artists of the 1920s

— February 2014

Associated media

Ben Nicholson, 1928 (Cornwall). Oil. © Angela Verren Taunt, 2013. All rights reserved, DACS

'Art & Life 1920–31'

Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis & William Staite Murray

Now at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge till 11 May.

A major international exhibition of work from two of the UK’s most important 20th-century painters, Ben Nicholson and Winifred Nicholson. ‘Art and Life’ examines their work both individually and in collaboration with friends and fellow artists Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, and the potter William Staite Murray. This exhibition has a special resonance for Kettle’s Yard, whose creator Jim Ede was a friend of, and collected work by, these artists. Key works in the exhibition from Kettle’s Yard’s collection, are shown alongside major loans from institutions across the UK and from Europe. This exciting exhibition also includes a large number of pieces from private collections and many previously unseen works

The exhibition has been curated in collaboration with art historian and curator Jovan Nicholson, Winifred and Ben’s grandson, giving unique access and insight into the archive, history and work of the artists. Focusing on the years of Ben and Winifred’s marriage from 1920–31 and the important relationships they had with Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and William Staite Murray, ‘Art and Life’ will look at how their work shaped and informed the story of 20th-century modern art in this country and explores the key contribution they made to modernism and the visual culture of the 20th century.

The exhibition positions the Nicholsons’ works alongside those of their contemporaries as well as in the context of the political and cultural history of the 20th century, supporting their significant position
 in the history of British art. ‘Art and Life’ examines the artistic partnership of Ben Nicholson and Winifred Nicholson in the 1920s. Inspired by each other, the Nicholsons experimented furiously and often painted the same subject, one as a colourist, the other more interested in form. Winifred wrote of her time with Ben, ‘All artists are unique and can only unite as complementaries not as similarities’.

The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication with newly commissioned texts, illustrated in full colour. In the book’s principal essay, Jovan Nicholson explores the ways that ideas flowed between the Nicholsons and Christopher Wood when they painted side by side in Cumberland and Cornwall, with particular emphasis on the meeting with Alfred Wallis in St Ives in 1928. Art historian, Sebastiano Barassi focuses on the Nicholsons’ visits to Paris, Italy and Switzerland in the early 1920s, and the potter Julian Stair examines the importance of William Staite Murray, one of the most successful artists at that time. All three essays draw on new research based on previously unpublished letters, photographs and other material.


The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive programme of events including a Monday Lecture Series:

17 February, 7 p.m.: ‘A Persistent way of life: Ben Nicholson, International Modernism and Rural Tradition’, Dr Chris Stephens, Head of Displays, Tate Britain

3 March, 7 p.m: ‘Art and Life’ Jovan Nicholson, Curator of the exhibition

24 March, 7 p.m: ‘Abstract Matter: William Staite Murray’s stoneware pottery’, Julian Stair, artist and writer

31 March, 7 p.m: ‘The Allure of the South: Ben and Winifred Nicholson in Switzerland and Italy’, Sebastiano Barassi, Curator, Henry Moore Foundation

Tickets, £8, £28 for the series.

The exhibition is supported by Arts Council England Touring. It is a collaboration between Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London and Leeds Art Gallery. The exhibition was at Leeds Art Gallery until 12 January 2014, is at Kettle’s Yard 15 February–11 May 2014 and travels to Dulwich Picture Gallery 4 June–21 September 2014.

Kettle's Yard

Opened in 1957, Kettle’s Yard is a remarkable house and collection with a programme of modern and contemporary art exhibitions, educational activities and music. Kettle’s Yard is part of the University of Cambridge. See 'Art for living at Kettle's Yard' in Cassone, June 2011

Kettle's Yard
Castle Street
+44 (0)1223 748100

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