Ben Nicholson made this seminal painting at a time when he was living between a flat on Quai d’Auteuil in Paris, which he shared with his wife, Winifred, and London, where he stayed with artist Barbara Hepworth, with whom he was also in a relationship.

‘I wish I could show you the white relief,’ he wrote to Hepworth in January 1935. ‘It is just large enough to make a white expanse in any room – + a marvellous peacefulness, + exciting landscape of foothills, + mountains, + still sunlight + snow,’ he went on.

Nicholson, who studied at London’s Slade School of Art, began to make relief paintings after he met Hepworth in the early 1930s. These initial reliefs were in earth tones; by February 1934 he had begun to make white versions in which his concept of perceiving planes at different levels became most developed.

Nicholson often mixed with international avant-garde artists in Paris and London, including Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, making him a key disseminator of Modernist ideas between the two cities.

Quai d’Auteuil is a superlative example of the genre of carved painting unique to Nicholson, and a key work in the evolution of British Modernism. In 1953 Winifred Nicholson, at the time the owner of the painting, wrote to Nicholson, ‘I am so glad you are able to repair the white relief which as you say is among the very best that you have done and has something exalted that I have not found in others.’

This highly significant picture now joins the collection at The Hepworth Wakefield, which includes a nationally important group of works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, as well as three other works by Ben Nicholson. However, none of these latter works by Nicholson represents the importance of his white reliefs to the development of Modern art in Britain, or have such strong associations with Hepworth’s geometric white carvings of the same period.

Provenance

The work was created in Paris in the winter of 1934/35 while staying with Winifred Nicholson. The work was given to Winifred at the time by the artist. It has remained in the family ever since, with Winifred passing it onto her daughter Kate in 1961 who o




Exhibitions at The Hepworth Wakefield

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