March 1955 (goblet and vase), 1955
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 9 Nov. 1989, lot 133.
Private Collection, USA, acquired at the above sale.
March 1955 (Goblet and vase) dates from an extraordinarily innovative period in Nicholson’s œuvre. As Lynton has written: ‘It is striking that in many of the major paintings of the early to mid-1950s, BN’s still life has to exist without the partnering landscape he had accustomed us to…Our attention is sought first by the play of lines that represent the still life, secondly by the supporting planes that were the table, and only thirdly by the wider setting and its implications of space and location. Each element has surrendered the major part of what made it recognisable, and thus these still life compositions strike one as abstract, though their mode of abstraction is utterly different from that of the white reliefs’ (N. Lynton, Ben Nicholson, London, 1993, p. 252).
The stylised lines and interlocking forms of March 1955 (Goblet and vase) clearly allude to the Cubist influences that Nicholson discovered in the first decade of the 20th Century. By applying graphite to the painted ground, Nicholson builds pictorial depth, the bold pencil lines literally incising the surface. Indeed the support itself remains visible in parts, drawing the viewer’s attention to the physical nature of the picture. A pioneer of abstraction, Ben Nicholson was undoubtedly considered one of Britain’s pre-eminent artists by 1955 when May 1955 (green chisel) was painted, and he received recognition on a global stage in these years: Nicholson won first prize at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, in 1952; was selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1954; and had his first high profile retrospective at the Tate, London in the summer of 1955.
We are grateful to Dr. Lee Beard for his assistance with our research.