March 1955 (2 circles 2 lines), 1955
André Bloc, Paris.
Jennifer Pinto Safian, New York.
Private Collection, USA, acquired from the above in 1988.
H. Read, Ben Nicholson: Paintings, reliefs, drawings, London, 1956, vol. II, no. 132 (illus.)
London, Gimpel Fils, Recent works by Ben Nicholson, June 1955, no. 22.
March 1955 (2 circles 2 lines) is an example of a carved relief, the approach to abstraction for which Ben Nicholson is perhaps best remembered. His first relief was made in Paris in December 1933. Nicholson expressed his excitement over his new discovery in a letter to second wife Barbara Hepworth: ‘I did a very amusing thing yesterday. I carved it all day long it is about the size of a sheet of notepaper & looks like a primitive game’ (quoted in Ben Nicholson, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1993, p. 216). This relief dates to Nicholson’s final years in St. Ives, Cornwall, where the artist had first settled with Hepworth shortly before the Second World War (he moved to Ticino in March 1958). By the time March 1955 (2 circles 2 lines) was executed the pair had divorced and Nicholson moved to Trezion in the centre of St Ives.
Here Nicholson combines linearity with shallow sculptural relief, creating a dynamic spatial effect with the most economic of means. As he wrote to Patrick Heron in a letter on 9 February 1954: ‘I have always been interested in the sculptural-architectural approach & any ‘decorative’ element in a [painting] is something meaningless to me. But I do not look for massive form…there is excitement for me in chiselling out flat planes – or in chiselling out by a single line…a whole elaborate form…In dealing with spaces I like a series of flat planes which interchange their position in depth…I hope in depth & never on the single plane of the surface. One does not live on a single plane & so there is no reality in a single plane in a [painting]’ (quoted in op. cit., p. 75).
March 1955 (2 circles 2 lines) first belonged to the French sculptor, architect and magazine editor André Bloc. A close associate of Le Corbusier, Bloc and he formed l’Association pour un Synthèse des Arts Plastiques (‘The Association for the Synthesis of the Visual Arts’), nominating Matisse as its President. Indeed, the year in which March 1955 (2 circles 2 lines) was acquired was also the year Bloc commissioned a villa in the Portese del Garda (fig. 2), and one can imagine the harmony between Nicholson’s image and the modernist architectural style.
We are grateful to Dr. Lee Beard for his assistance with our research.