Goblets, 9 July 1947
Curt Valentin Gallery, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Madison, CT.
Their sale; Christie’s, New York, 5 Nov. 1991, lot 17.
Private Collection, USA, acquired at the above sale.
H.R. Hitchcock, Painting Toward Architecture, exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, 1948, pp. 90 and 118 (illus. cover and p. 91).
H. Read, Ben Nicholson: Paintings, reliefs, drawings, London, 1948, vol. I, p. 9, no. 150 (illus.)
R. Rosenblum, The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters, The Spirit of Modernism, exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, 1984, p. 58.
Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum, Painting Toward Architecture, Dec. 1947; this exhibition then travelled to twenty-four American cities between 1948 and 1952.
Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum, The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters, The Spirit of Modernism, 26 Feb. – 29 April 1984, n.n.
Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum, Delaunay to de Kooning, Modern Masters from the Tremaine Collection and the Wadsworth Atheneum, 4 May – 15 Sept. 1991.
With an extensive early exhibition history, Goblets is an important example of Nicholson’s celebrated work of the late 1940s. Nicholson, his second wife Barbara Hepworth and their triplets moved to Carbis Bay in 1939, initially staying with the writer Adrian Stokes and then from September 1942 at Chy-an-Kerris, where Goblets was executed. Almost from the moment of arrival Nicholson began to turn away from the severity, purity, and strictly abstract structure of his earlier works; the scenery of St Ives captured his imagination. Nicholson’s address appears on the reverse of Goblets, perhaps inscribed prior to its inclusion in a touring exhibition that travelled to 25 American institutions between 1947 and 1952.
Constructed from overlapping shapes and dynamic passages of colour, Goblets reveals the artist’s engagement with the Cubist aesthetic. As Nicholson wrote: ‘‘‘Cubism’’ once discovered could not be undiscovered and so far from being that ‘‘passing phase’’ so long for reactionaries it (and all that its discovery implied) has been absorbed into human experience as we know it today. Painting today, and it was Cézanne who made the first vital moves, and Picasso and Braque – and Mondrian – who carried the discovery further, is a bird on the wing’ (B. Nicholson, 1955, quoted in V. Button, Ben Nicholson, London, 2007, p. 60). Here the goblets of the title are constructed with sharply drawn lines of graphite, the overlapping of forms producing great pictorial depth. Indeed Nicholson’s innovation is to apply the graphite over the oil paint, an inversion of traditional artistic methods.
Characteristic of his work in the late 1940s, Nicholson here incorporates bold passages of red, black and magenta as well as softer, earthy colours in this picture. Norbert Lynton points to the avant-garde origins of Nicholson’s practice: ‘the use of interference colours – by which I mean a colour change when one apparently opaque colour overlaps with another – probably came from Moholy-Nagy, who had seen it in Kandinsky’s work from 1920-21 and made an important feature of it […] The effect of such colours is to imply that opaque colour too is light rather than matter, a film rather than a slab. In BN’s hands this play of light and lightness in a context suggesting the physicality of relief, together with the tilting of most of the lines, this duality of solidity and transparency, gives his image an unusual mobile, harlequin character’ (N. Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 199).
We are grateful to Dr. Lee Beard for his assistance with our research.