Ben Nicholson, 1921 – c 1923 (Cortivallo, Lugano)
Art and Life 1920-1931 at Leeds Art Gallery is an exhibition about friendship. Brilliantly and excitingly, it fills two rooms with works that also speak of a time of passionate argument and exploration in British art. Its focus is the artistic partnership between Ben Nicholson and Winifred Nicholson in the 1920s, and their friendship with Christopher Wood and Alfred Wallis.
The Nicholsons and Wood were affected by and, in their different ways, absorbed the experimental ethos of continental modernism. But the three artists – who often painted side by side to produce impressions of the same landscape – were also drawn to to whether, as Paul Nash put it, it was possible to ‘go modern’ and still ‘be British’. Like Nash (another close friend), the Nicholsons and Wood were drawn to paint landscapes and flowers, but were fascinated, too, by the formal experiments of their contemporaries.
Battle lines had been drawn in the first two decades of the century, succinctly put by Nash in an article for Axis, the British art magazine in which these arguments raged every quarter:
Internationalism versus an indigenous culture; renovation versus conservatism; the industrial versus the pastoral; the functional versus the futile.
Winifred and Ben had joined the ‘7 and 5’ Society in 1924, later bringing in their friend Christopher Wood. The ‘7 and 5’ (seven painters, five sculptors) had been formed in London in 1919 and was originally intended to champion traditional, conservative artistic sensibilities: ‘We feel that there has of late been too much pioneering along too many lines in altogether too much of a hurry’, asserted the first exhibition catalogue. But the Nicholsons, along with others such as David Jones, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, changed the society into one that championed modernism (in 1935, the group was renamed the Seven and Five Abstract Group).
Ben and Winifred’s marriage in 1920 marked the beginning of a highly creative partnership. They painted side by side, experimenting and sharing ideas whilst studying the same landscapes and still lifes. Together they taught and learnt from each other, working at various times in Lugano, Dulwich, Cumberland and Cornwall. Like other artists in this fruitful period for British art, their work was inspired by their surroundings, at the same time as it absorbed the influences of contemporary artists working in London and on the continent.
Whether it originated in the dazzling snowlight of Switzerland, the silvery-grey light of Paris, the sharp Atlantic brightness of Cornwall or the notes of clear white from whitewashed houses in a green Cumberland landscape, a vibrancy found its way into the Nicholsons’ work [as they responded to] the colour and rhythms of the surrounding landscape.
– Christopher Neve
As their work shifted away from realism, they both came to believe that a picture should be allowed to stand on its own merits without being compared with the object depicted: pictures should be living things with a rhythm and flow like music. Winifred’s work especially revealed a romantic temperament, a belief that it was less important whether a picture was representational or not than that it should have a life of its own. Her art was evolving, in Christopher Neve’s words, ‘in the direction of wild flowers, distant mountains, the sea, softer and more ambiguous forms, half-seen, remembered or only suspected’.
Winifred Nicholson, Cyclamen and Primula, 1922-23
Art and Life has been curated by Jovan Nicholson, Ben and Winifred’s grandson, and his personal knowledge and experience of the artists makes the exhibition a particularly interesting exploration of the couple’s experimentation during the 1920s that also reveals how their practice interacted with fellow artists.
Winifred and Ben’s paintings were quite different. Winifred’s emphasis was strongly on colour and light whereas Ben focused more on line, muted colours and abstract, simple forms. As Christopher Neve has written:
Winifred Nicholson was already seeing colour as a series of iridescent veils, dissolving edges. Ben Nicholson’s instinctive links with Cezanne and Cubism, on the other hand, discouraged him from relinquishing shapes, forms and lines, however much they drifted and crossed.
Ben Nicholson, Jar and Goblet, 1925
Christopher Wood was born in Knowsley, just outside Liverpool, and went on to study architecture briefly at Liverpool University just after the war. Then, in London in 1920, the French collector Alphonse Kahn invited Wood to Paris, where he studied drawing and absorbed modernist influences. He met the Nicholsons in 1926 and became a close friend, living with them for periods of time in Cumbria and St Ives in Cornwall.
Winifred Nicholson, Polyanthus and Cineraria, 1921
Art and Life is divided into four sections – three of them presenting work associated with locations where the artists spent time in the 1920s, the last pointing towards their diverging paths in the following decade.
Lugano and London
After their marriage in 1920 the Nicholsons spent the next three winters in in a villa overlooking Lake Lugano in Switzerland, stopping off in Paris on the way there and back. They were particularly attracted to the Cubist works of Picasso and in Lugano they patiently absorbed the lessons of Paris. They experimented and painted intensely, often outside and in the snow, and gradually began to find their own individual styles.
It was during those years that Ben Nicholson broke away from naturalism and developed an interest in modern French and early Italian painting. 1921-circa 1923 (Cortivallo, Lugano) seen at the top of this post takes for its subject Cortivallo, one of the villages near Lake Lugano. In its appearance and much of its technique the picture reflects Paul Cézanne’s landscape paintings of the 1880s and 1890s, especially those of Mont Ste Victoire. The cubistic rendering of buildings, rough modelling of forms and unfinished brushwork are all reminiscent of Cézanne’s style.
It was in Lugano that Winifred Nicholson first painted flowers on a window sill with a view behind, as for example in Polyanthus and Cineraria; this became her favourite subject which she varied and evolved throughout the rest of her painting life.
Ben Nicholson, 1924 (first abstract painting, Chelsea)
For Ben Nicholson the process of artistic development led, eventually, to the reliefs and abstracts of the 1930s. The first abstract he painted is on display here – 1924 (first abstract painting, Chelsea) – one of only a few such works made by British artists in this period. While other British avant-garde artists tended to use still life or landscape as a way into abstract experimentation, Nicholson displays a sophisticated understanding of Cubism in its insistence on shallow space and overlapping planes. It’s a painting that was very advanced in the context of British art in this period, where the notion of abstraction was primarily equated with the distortion of natural appearance. However, it would be another ten years before Nicholson returned to complete abstraction
Ben Nicholson, 1925 (still life with jug, mugs, cup and goblet)
For me, though, it’s less radical but still challenging works such as 1925 (still life with jug, mugs, cup and goblet) and Dymchurch Beach, 1923 that thrill me. It’s interesting to compare Nicholson’s representation of Dymchurch beach with that of his friend Paul Nash, made in the same year (not in this show, but on display elsewhere in the gallery).
Ben Nicholson, Dymchurch Beach, 1923
Paul Nash, The Shore, 1923
The earth of Cumberland is my earth … I have always lived in Cumberland – the call of the curlew is my call, the tremble of the harebell is my tremble in life, the blue mist of the lonely fells is my mystery, and the sliver gleam when the sun does come out is my pathway.
Throughout the 1920s, although the Nicholsons moved around a fair bit, painting in Chelsea and Dulwich, Dymchurch in Kent, Sutton Veny in Wiltshire, and Feock and St. Ives in Cornwall, it was Cumberland where they made their home. In 1923 they purchased Bankshead, a farmhouse straddling Hadrian’s Wall in north east Cumberland. They began to explore the surrounding landscape together, often painting the distant rolling fells.
Banks Head, Cumberland
It was while in London in 1926 that the Nicholsons had met Christopher Wood. Their friendship grew, and in the spring of 1928 Wood visited the Nicholsons in Cumberland. Wood painted and drew outside side by side with Ben Nicholson, the two playing a game of reducing their drawings as much as possible. There’s a fine drawing by Wood in the exhibition, titled ‘Cumberland Landscape’, probably during that spring visit. ‘Bankshead is the painter’s life’, said Wood. ‘I am on the verge of the real thing after what I saw and learned at Bankshead’.
Christopher Wood, Cumberland Landscape (Northrigg Hill), 1928
One of the best moments in the exhibition comes with the opportunity to compare the treatment of the same view by the three artists: Ben Nicholson’s 1930 (Cumberland Farm), Christopher Wood’s, Cumberland Landscape (Northrigg Hill), 1928 and Winifred’s Northrigg Hill, 1926. Of the three, I feel that it is Winifred’s widescreen panorama that is most perfectly realised, tracing the shapes made by drystone walls and ploughed furrows, the distant blue fells on the horizon, all beneath a turbulent sky.
Ben Nicholson’s later 1930 (Cumberland Farm), like the other two, is clearly painted from the same viewpoint. All three have same subject, but exhibit different treatments – Ben’s reflecting the influence of Alfred Wallis, who he had met in St Ives in 1928.
Winifred Nicholson, Northrigg Hill, 1926
Ben Nicholson, 1930 (Cumberland Farm)
Banks Head was basic: it had no electricity until after the Second World War and Winifred had to get plumbing, heating and cooking equipment installed. Knowing that gives in extra frisson to her painting, Fire and Water, of the old black range that was always lit in the windswept house that was high up, overlooking a panorama of rolling farmland stretching to the distant northern edge of the Pennines.
Winifred Nicholson, Fire and Water, 1927
It was during these years that flowers – brought indoors and displayed in a vase or jar on a table or a windowsill with a hazy view of the outdoor scene beyond – becomes a familiar element of Winifred’s work. They are more than just pretty pictures of posies, though. In the Times, an anonymous reviewer of an exhibition given by the three artists in 1927 commented on Winifred’s ‘escape from realism into a new reality’ which seems about right. These paintings are not slavish representations but experiments in light and colour that ‘invest the visible world with an almost magical aura’ (Christopher Andreae, Winifred Nicholson)
Winifred Nicholson, Flower Table, Pots, 1927
In parenthesis: Winifred Nicholson is often dismissed simply as a painter of flowers or a ‘woman’s’ painter (it was interesting to note how many of the paintings exhibited at Leeds Art Gallery were from a private collection; a sign, perhaps, of the disdain for her work by those who buy works for public collections? ) The worst example of this attitude that I’ve come across was from Brian Sewell who, in a Telegraph piece that I don’t think even merits a link, opined that her paintings are ‘very slight indeed… what I call women’s pictures. In fact only a woman could have painted them’. For myself, I’m with Alain de Botton who (writing about Monet’s lilies in last week’s Guardian) spoke of how many people of taste and sophistication regard ‘prettiness’ as a symptom of sentimentality, even stupidity:
The worry might be that the fondness for this kind of art is a delusion: those who love pretty gardens are in danger of forgetting the actual conditions of life, which include war, disease and political error and immorality. … But … for most of us, the greatest risk we face is not complacency; few of us are likely to forget the evils of existence. The real risk is that we are going to fall into fury, depression and despair; the danger is that we will lose all hope in the human project.
It is this kind of despair that art is well suited to correct and that explains the well-founded popular enthusiasm for prettiness. Flowers in spring, blue skies, children running on the beach … these are the visual symbols of hope. Cheerfulness is an achievement and hope is something to celebrate.
Winifred herself wrote:
I like painting flowers – I have tried to paint many things in many different ways, but my paint brush always gives a tremor of pleasure when I let it paint a flower – and I think I know why this is so. Flowers mean different things to different people – to some they are trophies to decorate their dwellings (for this plastic flowers will do as well as real ones) – to some they are buttonholes for their conceit – to botanists they are species and tabulated categories – to bees of course they are honey – to me they are the secret of the cosmos.
This secret cannot be put into image, far less into the smallness of words – but I try to. Their silence says to me – ‘My rootlets are moving in the dark, in the wet, cold, damp mud – My leaflets are moving in the brightness of the sky – My flowerface has seen the darkness which cannot be seen, and the brightness that is too bright to see – has seen earth to sun and sun to earth.’
Art is the desire to resolve opposites – to find a path in the jungle of phenomena. […] Some artists find their ultimate opposites in the contrast of the circle against the square – but I wonder whether the measure of the rectangular environment and of human beings, are the true opposites.
The flower world thinks they are not. You never circumscribe within the prison of a square bed even the tamest of flowers. They struggle, they sprawl – and if curtailed, they invite the worst weeds to come and join in the fray with them. They know more geometry than Pythagoras – and all sunflowers practice mathematical law in the spiral arrangement of their seeds. For resolving the ultimate of the universe is not all that they can tell – listen, they will show how to turn light into rainbows.
Winifred Nicholson, Flower Piece, 1927
Winifred Nicholson, Window-Sill, Lugano 1923
Window-Sill, Lugano 1923 is not in the exhibition, but is a painting from that period which clearly demonstrates her seriousness and her strengths. It’s in the Tate collection, and this is what their caption says about the painting and about Winifred’s work:
Though the painting of flowers has been stereotyped as the preserve of women artists, Nicholson uses it here not as an expression of femininity, but as a pretext for experiments in technique. Like many progressive artists at this time she adopts a naïve or ‘primitive’ style in an attempt to unlearn traditional picture-making habits and generate a fresh vision of the subject. Nicholson innovatively combines the two genres of still life and landscape, aiming at personal expression through her use of space, shapes and colour
Flowers and landscapes were not Winifred’s only subjects. She painted the people close to her as well – her family and country people, farm people. The exhibition has two of these paintings – the tender portrait of Ben with their baby, Father and Son, and the large painting of The Warwick Family, made in 1926 and depicting the family who lived and worked the farmstead next door.
Winifred Nicholson, Father and Son, 1927
Christopher Wood, Flowers, 1930
Winifred’s influence on Christopher (Kit) Wood (at least in choice of subject) can be seen in Flowers, a painting he made in 1930. The three artists had become close friends, and after Kit had stayed at Banks Head for a month in the spring of 1928 windowsills and flowers began to appear in his work. In Winifred’s writings (published in Unknown Colour) there’s a terrific journal entry in which she writes of Kit’s arrival at Banks Head:
He came in March. His arrival was like a meteor. The wild country delighted him. The dark forests took on a mystery and magic as he looked on them, moved in spirit with the impetuosity of the brown river that runs, carving its course, through Coombe Crags. We all three painted and thought of nothing else. Inspiration ran high and flew backwards and forwards from one to the other. Usually he painted from drawings or from memory, but here he painted some pictures from nature, carrying an enormous box of paints and easel over the rough fields and walking at his usual swift pace. […]
He came up from the valley with the springing step of eternal youth. He had been out all day with Ben along by the river in the green valley making schemes for pictures and drawings. He came up the hill with his heavy painting gear and a great branch of palm over his shoulder. He had climbed to the top of a tree to get it. The pollen of the yellow catkins lay dusty on his coat.
Meanwhile, Ben was moving, slowly but surely, towards abstraction, as represented here by c.1925 (Jamaique).
Ben Nicholson, c.1925 (Jamaique)
In the summer of 1928 the Nicholsons holidayed at Pill Creek, near Feock in south Cornwall, described by Winifred as ‘a sleeping beauty’s countryside of southern foliage, sheltered creeks and wide expanse of water’.
Christopher Wood, Pill Creek, Feock, Cornwall, 1928
While at Feock Ben Nicholson and Wood made a day trip to St. Ives where they stumbled upon the old fisherman and painter Alfred Wallis. They were so taken with his paintings that not long after the whole party moved to St. Ives.
Alfred Wallis was entirely self taught and depicted scenes from his memory: schooners in which he had crossed the Atlantic, mackerel luggers he had worked on, and images of St. Ives Bay and Mount’s Bay that lacked any perspective. He used old ship or household paint, and painted on old bits of odd-shaped cardboard. Each of the three painters responded to Wallis in their own way, but he had the most significant impact on Ben Nicholson who saw these paintings as experiences more real than life itself, and responded by making similar works of deceptive simplicity, such as 1930 ( Cornish Port).
Ben Nicholson, 1930 (Cornish Port)
Winifred wrote about Wallis with the same simplicity of expression as the old fisherman’s paintings:
Alfred Wallis … is an old fisherman of eighty. He paints. Kit and Ben had seen his pictures stuck up over his wall as they were passing down the street one day. They saw them through the open door. They went in and spoke to him. The pictures were of the sea and ships. He paints them on any bits of cardboard. They are painted with the imagination of a poet and the restraint of colour and sense of movement of a master. His work is true naive and of the utmost sincerity. He started painting a year after his wife died. He lives in one room. He is suspicious of all the neighbours who do not understand him. He has a kind of mouth-organ wrapped up in a purple-spotted handkerchief. He plays out of his head strange melodies which he improvises by the hour. He used to be a rag-and-bone man. he once had a shop and made money. It was all stolen. He distrusts people. He loves ships with a passion. All his painting is expressive as only great and simple painting is.
There, in a few crisp sentences, is just about all you need to know about Alfred Wallis.
Ben Nicholson kept in touch with Alfred Wallis, visiting when he could, exchanging letters, sending him money and materials and receiving parcels of paintings by post. When Alfred Wallis’s work was exhibited in London it was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, despite Ben Nicholson championing Wallis amongst his artistic friends.
Alfred Wallis, Four Luggers and a Lighthouse, c 1928
Alfred Wallis, White Houses, Hales Down, near St Ives, c 1930
Ben Nicholson, 1928 (Porthmeor Beach no. 2)
Both Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood painted pictures entitled Porthmeor Beach in 1928, and both can be interpreted as homages to Alfred Wallis. Ben’s 1928 (Porthmeor Beach No. 2, above) is in the exhibition, a sand-coloured painting with sand-scoured textures. Ben has painted the view through an open window of the beach with a Wallis-style schooner afloat on the sea beyond. Ben painted another view of Porthmeor beach that year (not in the exhibition), also with a Wallis-like ship riding the waves. Both paintings draw heavily upon Wallis’s simple, direct painting style.
Christopher Wood’s Porthmeor Beach (below, also not in this exhibition) also exhibits the influence of Wallis. It was painted shortly after Ben and Kit had met Wallis, and it views (fairly accurately in topographic terms) the Man’s Head promontory that embraces the beach to the west. In the foreground, a hunched figure strides along the coast path towards us – it could well be Wallis himself, for this was his favourite walk.
On the far side of Porthmeor, the headland known as The Island is crowned by a tiny chapel. Winifred made a painting of The Island in the same year (which is in the exhibition); it’s a great painting on which Winifred has left visible a network of pencil lines that trace arcs and ellipses from various points on the canvas, particularly the top of the church tower.
Christopher Wood, Porthmeor Beach, 1928
Ben Nicholson, 1928 (Porthmeor Beach)
The Nicholsons and Kit had been joined on that Cornish holiday by Wood’s lover Frosca Munster, a Russian emigre that he had met in Paris, once described by Diaghilev’s secretary as having ‘a serene face that had the strange beauty of the models painted by Piero della Francesca’. She had rechristened Wood ‘Kit of the woods’ because she felt he was so untameable. There’s a portrait of her by Wood in the last section of the exhibition, called The Blue Necklace.
Christopher Wood, The Blue Necklace, 1928
The Nicholsons and Wood shared no more painting trips after 1928. Wood continued to paint in intensive spells, notably in Brittany in 1929 and 1930, where he painted Le Phare, one work where the influence of Alfred Wallis is most evident.
Christopher Wood, Le Phare, 1929
In the winter of 1929, Wood stayed on in St. Ives with Froska. In a rented cottage on Porthmeor Beach, Wood was smoking five or six pipes of opium each evening. By day he visited Wallis and studied the people of the town and their customs, noting his observations in a letter to Winifred:
When someone dies here, they burn the mattress, the clothes and even the bedstead of the defunct on the beach. The male folk, these darkly dressed men, carry it all down on their shoulders and make a huge fire among the rocks and stand around with paraffin cans musing on the life of the dead person. It is rather impressive, with the huge green waves like horses, bounding and pounding in on the sand.
That describes a typical Christopher Wood picture: the sea, darkly dressed fisherpeople (‘they look like pirates with big jack boots up to their thighs and skin hats with wings in them like Mercury’, he wrote to Winifred), drama, wildness and mystery. Sebastian Faulks has written that Wood ‘was the only serious English painter between the two wars who continued to believe that a picture could deal with the lives of people. There’s one such painting in this exhibition – The Fisherman’s Farewell.
The painting dates from that autumn spent in Cornwall with the Nicholsons. Set against a backdrop of St Ives harbour, a fisherman bids farewell to a woman and a child, his sun-tanned face partially obscured as he leans to kiss the child’s head. One group of men hauls a boat towards the sea, others are already crowded into a tiny vessel and heading towards the cluster of larger boats that await their crews. It’s a poignant scene of departure overlaid with an atmosphere of impending loss.
It was a form of personal farewell: the figures in the foreground are portraits of Ben and Winifred with their young son, Jake born a year earlier.
Christopher Wood, The Fisherman’s Farewell 1928
In December 1929, shortly before leaving Cornwall for London and then Paris, Wood wrote to Winifred Nicholson:
I seem to live on the edge of the world. But what a world it is, I love this place and could stay here for ever if I had those around me for whom I care … It will be hard to leave it.
On 21 August 1930, in Winifred’s words, Wood ‘went into the unknown’. Suffering the effects of opium withdrawal, he threw himself under a train at Salisbury Station at the age of 29. Winifred wrote:
If there had been no night; if the earth had never turned her face away from her bright sun, we had never known that there were stars – countless millions of them in space so wide we cannot conceive of it. Suns so many that all our glory is but pale in comparison.
Besides the awful greatness of the universe, its solitude, its silence, its power, the vast deep unknown, there is only one thing as awe-inspiring, and that is the soul of a man when it is inspired by a purpose that risks all to scale the high skies, to aspire to abstract beauty herself …
Wood had been addicted to opium for a good many years and some have suggested that this is was gives many of his works a dream-like quality:
His best paintings are radiant and faintly sinister. Fra Angelico and El Greco seem, for once to have met on common ground. There is an unclouded purity, at times a rapture, in his pictures, but there is also a thunderstorm somewhere in the neighbourhood. Sometimes it is the inky blue-black of the sea, sometimes a leaden sky, more often a series of sinister shapes that cannot be analysed, that set the mood’
– Eric Newton, Christopher Wood: His life and Work
Christopher Wood, Zebra and Parachute, 1930
One of Kit Wood’s last paintings is here: the strange, surreal Zebra and Parachute. A zebra stands before a modernist building, identified as the Villa Savoye, near Paris, designed by Le Corbusier. The villa, begun in 1928, was completed after Wood’s death, but construction was well underway at the time Wood produced this painting in Paris. The mysterious atmosphere of the image is reinforced by the sight of the parachute descending, a tiny figure dangling in the harness limp and lifeless.
Alfred Wallis, St Ives Harbour, Hayle Bay and Godrevy and Fishing Boats, 1932-34
The final group of paintings also includes what is, for me, the best of Alfred Wallis’s paintings, St Ives Harbour, Hayle Bay and Godrevy and Fishing Boats. The subject was a Wallis favourite, and he painted it many times. In this version he has concertina’d a broad area of sea and coastline into a compact composition in order to emphasise its key features – St.Ives harbour with mackerel boats beached at low tide, Porthminster Beach with its seine nets, Hayle Estuary, the long stretch of coastline beyond, and Godrevy Lighthouse across the bay.
In the materials used, too, the painting is pure Wallis. He would make use of whatever scraps of board happened to be available, often cartons and old packing-cases given to him by the local grocer. Instead of disguising their origin Wallis would incorporate their irregularities into the design of his pictures, making a virtue of whatever shape, texture and colour they chanced to have. His colours were similarly restricted by what he could manage to lay his hands on – invariably ship’s paint, never artists’ colours, which he thoroughly despised. As he wrote to one of his few collectors in 1935: ‘I do not put Collers what do not Belong. I Think it spoils The pictures’.
Winifred Nicholson, Autumn Flowers on Mantlepiece, 1932
By the early 1930s the Nicholson’s marriage was breaking down and they began to live apart (although they both stayed in close contact and visited each other regularly for the rest of their lives). In 1932 Winifred was living in Paris and while staying with her Ben made his first relief. A later one, from 1935, is displayed here, alongside a superb abstract from the same year, 1935 (Painting), consisting of blocks of black, grey, cream and sand-coloured paint dominated by a central pale blue circle.
Ben Nicholson, 1935 (White Relief)
Although living separately, Ben and Winifred continued to keep up a lively correspondence until they were in their eighties. In 1932 Winifred wrote to Ben from the Isle of Wight:
I like your idea of our new relationship – clear and true, in complete freedom and unexclusiveness, no sense of the divisions of people. I see it clear in the high skies – I feel it clear in the subconscious spaces where all picture ideas, all vision, comes from. How it works on earth I do not see. But perhaps it need not come to earth any more than Kit’s need. …
The day is full of bright sunlight. The white ship in the distance came straight out of Kit’s St. Ives picture – moving like magic and dazzling white – serene and cold …
In 1953 Winifred wrote:
There are several kinds of happiness, and there is one sort I have found. It is the sort that is within oneself, enjoying fresh promise, and taking all the experiences of life that one has been through, so-called sad ones and so-called happy ones, to make up understanding that is further on than joy or sorrow. I have been extremely lucky – I have had ten years of companionship with an ‘all-time’ painter, working in the medium of classical eternity and that has been better than a lifetime with any second-class person – isn’t it – I have found it so …
In 1967, again writing to Ben, Winifred makes a delightfully irascible observation about something which the poet Kathleen Raine had written in an introduction to the catalogue for an exhibition of her work:
I don’t at all mind your stating that you were married to me (if you want to) after all it’s a fact. But Kathleen’s Mrs Nicholson is a piece of stupidity – who is Mrs Nicholson? Does she really feel that a woman has no identity of her own? She should study the new Swedish law in which, on marriage, women keep their own name, or take an entirely different name if they wish to – either different from their own or their husband’s.
On another occasion Winifred wrote to Ben:
I don’t want more, never have wanted and never will want to paint more real than actual life. I want life and painting to be the same so that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.
Winifred Nicholson, The Gate to the Isles, 1980 (not in exhibition)
- Winifred Nicholson: artist’s website
- Ben Nicholson’s Cornwall
- Art and Life: exhibition review and more at Books and Boots blog