Ben Nicholson was born in Denham, Buckinghamshire in 1894. He studied at the Slade School from 1910 to 1911 and from 1912 to 1918 he traveled widely in Europe and the United States. He married Winifred Roberts and from 1920 to 1931 they lived in London and Cumberland, spending winters in Castagnola, Switzerland. Nicholson’s first one-man show was at the Adelphi Gallery in 1921. He also visited Paris during that year, seeing paintings by Picasso and Braque. During a visit to Cornwall in 1928 with Christopher Wood, the Nicholsons met Alfred Wallis and bought work from him.
Nicholson was a member of the Seven and Five Society and, until he and Nash moved apart, he was active in Unit One. In 1932 he visited Paris with Barbara Hepworth (who became his second wife in 1934) and met Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and Arp. On subsequent visits to Paris in 1933 and 1934 they met Mondrian and Moholy- Nagy. Jean Helion encouraged him to Join Abstraction-Creation in 1933. His “Au Chat Bottle”, from 1932 reflects his contact with Braque and his White Reliefs of 1933-1938, (which were carved) suggest the influence of both Hepworth and Mondrian. Nicholson has also acknowledged his debt to Miró.
In 1937 Nicholson was editor of “Circle” and from 1939 to 1958 he lived in Cornwall. In 1951 he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Festival of Britain. He had a retrospective exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1954, an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1955 and was subsequently awarded many international prizes. His earlier figurative work absorbed naïve approaches to drawing and composition; he later moved regularly between abstraction and figuration, always cool, harmonious colors, subtle textures and, typically, in precisely shaped interpenetrating and interlocking shapes. Most of the prints created by Nicholson were condensed into a three-year period between 1966 and 1968. His etchings often acted as a counterpoint to his painting and were masterpieces of harmonious, fluid lines. Nicholson married a third time and in 1958, moved to Ticino, Switzerland. Nicholson made a concrete wall relief for the Documenta III exhibition in Kassel, Germany in 1964 and in 1968 he was awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth. In 1978 the Albright- Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY organized a retrospective of his work. He died in London in 1982.