A special work by Ben Nicholson can be seen in the Museum Belvédère. Is it abstract or not?


Ben Nicholson, 11 November 1947 (Musehul) in Museum Belvédère Oranjewoud.Statue Natascha Libbert

You’ve probably never heard of Mousehole. I had never even heard of it. Google Maps should come in handy to find out exactly where it is. Then in Cornwall, 10 miles south of St. Ives. It has two piers, which from the air look like the claws of a giant crab reaching out for shells. Dylan Thomas spent his honeymoon in Mousehole. I would have saved you this Wiki extra if it were not for Mousehole’s appearance in a Ben Nicholson painting: November 11, 1947 (museum hole)† It now hangs in the Museum Belvédère in Oranjewoud, and it is such a special work that I had to dedicate this section to it.

It dates from 1947, two years after the end of World War II, and eight years after Nicholson and his wife, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, traveled to St. Louis. Ives with their triplets. Vacation. Go out. But before Nicholson lost his summer tan, Germany invaded Poland and England was at war: the great holiday became a permanent holiday. Hepworth and Nicholson’s presence in St. Ives acted as a magnet for others, as it had done in London before. Encouraged by the couple, all sorts of progressive figures, including the sculptor and theorist Naum Gabo, sought refuge in the coastal town.

Piet Mondrian, who had met Nicholson in Paris and for whom he had rented a study place in London, was also summoned by the two to come quickly to St. Petersburg. Ives.

That should not happen, Mondrian replied. The colors of the region appealed to him.

the colors?

That green

Nicholson’s art at the time was closely linked to the Mondrians. He also made compositions that consisted mainly of rectangles and lines, sometimes performed as relief, sometimes as drawing or painting. They are beautiful and graceful, but they lack Mondrian’s uncompromising vision. There is something decorative and homely about it, qualities you can explain as typically British.

Ben Nicholson: Wintergreen (1952) Statue Natascha Libbert

Ben Nicholson: Wintergreen (1952)Statue Natascha Libbert

Guest curator Feico Hoekstra emphasizes in the catalog how much the Cornish landscape influenced the work of newcomers, including Nicholsons. And in fact: in abstract paintings like evergreen you will find at least one proposal for landscape. At the same time, with such a title, it is hard not to notice such elements. We see what we expect.

Bee November 11, 1947 (museum hole) it is obvious that you are looking at a bay. The sea is to the left, so our back is to the north. The landscape unfolds, but not as smoothly as in Renaissance paintings; it looks unruly, strangely unfinished – is it really a landscape? To the right, the pier turns into a geometric shape reminiscent of Picasso’s collages of bottles and guitars. Or is it a Hepworth over there on the dock? And Nicholson? A climbing experience for children?

I told you it’s a separate painting. It gives the impression that Nicholson started with an abstract composition, transformed it into a landscape and then, perhaps disappointed by the somewhat old-fashioned character of the result, added an abstract motif. What you actually see is an abstract Nicholson making a cameo in a figurative Nicholson. This Matryoshka-Nicholson has often been used as a cover for catalogs of Nicholson’s works.

Ben Nicholson in 1932. Image Getty

Ben Nicholson in 1932.Picture Getty

It is an attractive painting. All the Mediterranean stones, all the juicy green. At the same time, one sees the coquetry that Nicholson was criticized for in his time, his urge to be tasteful in a way that was foreign to Hepworth, for example. Or did he just have too much of the infamous English charm, poison Anthony Blanche warned Charles Ryder in Bridal headwho suffocates what it touches and turns tigers into domestic cats?

Artist: Ben Nicholson (1894-1982)

Title: November 11, 1947 (museum hole)

Exhibited at: Museum Belvédère, Living the Landscape: Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and the Artists of St. Ives, 1939-1975Heerenveen-Oranjewoud

Until: 25/9

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