Born in Denham, Buckinghamshire in 1894 Ben Nicholson is perhaps amongst the most celebrated and internationally-recognised British painters of the 20th century. The son of the renowned artist Sir William Nicholson he attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1910 – 11 and between 1911 and 1914 he travelled in France, Italy and Spain and briefly lived in Pasadena, California in 1917-18. From 1920 – 1931 he was married to the artist Winifred Nicholson and together they lived in London, Cumberland and Cornwall. His first one-man exhibition was held at the Adelphi Gallery in London in 1922 and shortly thereafter he began to work on abstract paintings which were influenced by Synthetic Cubism. In 1925 during a visit to Cornwall he met Christopher Wood and the naïve painter Alfred Wallis both of whom where to become important influences on his work and, with Wood, he became a member of the Seven and Five Society.
By 1927 Ben Nicholson had adopted a primitive style which was inspired by Herni Rousseau and early English folk art. From 1931 Nicholson lived in London where he first met Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, in 1932, with Hepworth, he visited Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Groeges Braque and Pablo Picasso in France and they were encouraged by Jean Helion and Auguste Herbin to join Abstraction-Création in 1933. In 1934 he met Piet Mondrian and in the same year married Barbara Hepworth. During this period Nicholson’s White Relief paintings were considered to be amongst the most important new styles in international abstract art and in general his reliefs are felt to be his greatest works.
In 1939 the Nicholson family moved to Cornwall and Nicholson resumed painting landscapes and began to add colour to his abstract reliefs. In 1945-46 he turned from reliefs to linear, abstract paintings and in 1952 he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Time-Life Building in London. In 1954 retrospectives of his work were held at the Venice Biennale and at the Tate Gallery, London.
With Naum Gabo and Sir Leslie Martin, Nicholson edited CIRCLE, the first monograph on constructivist art, which laid down the guidelines and principles of the modern movement, and was to become a landmark influence on the thinking of art historians. In 1958 he moved to Castagnola, Switzerland where he lived for only a few years and began to concentrate once more on painted reliefs. In 1964 he made a concrete wall relief for the Documenta III exhibition in Kassel, Germany and in 1968 was awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth.
Ben Nicholson returned to London in the early 1960s and died there in 1982.