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Seascape with two boats, KY by Winifred Nicholson

Seascape with two boats, KY by Winifred Nicholson

I have never really explored the work of the Nicholsons, Winifred and Ben, who were married for ten years, but now I have a chance to make up for it with the opening next month of an exhibition dedicated to the couple and their contemporaries at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Art and Life: Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, William Staite Murray, 1920 – 1931.

I registered with the press area of the Gallery and after studying the downloaded images, I now find myself rather enraptured by the work of all!  The exhibition will include rarely or never-seen-before oil paintings created by Winifred during their marriage.

This period had a great impact on Winifred’s art. Both she and Ben were hugely influenced by artists such as Cezanne and Picasso. Loose and bold became the order of the day.

‘Grouped by location, ‘Art and Life’ features several paintings of Cumberland where Winifred lived with Ben, such as Cumberland Landscape, which is displayed for the first time. The couple stayed in London, Lugano, Switzerland and Cornwall and regularly painted and exhibited with their friends and contemporaries Christopher Wood, William Staite Murray and later, Alfred Wallis. Winifred benefited greatly from this life of artistic exchange and Ben’s sense of adventure and his unstoppable desire to see and try new things helping her develop her own response to the modernist revolution. Winifred’s interest in colour, however, did not waver throughout her marriage to Ben, who was more preoccupied with form. The juxtaposition of specific pictures by Ben and Winifred in the exhibition sharing the same colour values shows just how much Winifred led and developed Ben’s sense of colour, for example, Ben’s 1924 (first abstract painting, Chelsea)  and Winifred’s King’s Road, Chelsea.’

Ben Nicholson, 1930 (Cornish Port)

Ben Nicholson, 1930 (Cornish Port)

The exhibition’s curator is the couple’s Art Historian grandson, Jovan Nicholson, who says:

“Winifred used flowers to express her ideas about colour and the exhibition demonstrates how by 1924 she had worked out her fundamental colour theory. Later works in the show highlight the influence of fellow artists – one of my favourite paintings is Boat on a Stormy Sea which Winifred probably painted in St. Ives after she had met the marine painter Alfred Wallis. You sense her delight in the process of painting, with her paint loaded brush whooshing across the surface of the canvas. But it also shows how much she appreciated Wallis with his natural sense of movement. For me it has been an enduring and deepening pleasure to come to know my grandparents work more closely. Most importantly I hope the show will bring much pleasure and enjoyment to the viewers.”

Alfred Wallis, Four luggars leaving a harbour, MIMA

Alfred Wallis, Four luggers leaving a harbour, MIMA


Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) was born in Oxford as Rosa Winifred Roberts. She was the granddaughter of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle, an amateur painter and friend of the Pre-Raphaelites. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, and married Ben Nicholson in 1920 shortly after a visit to India. Winifred is best known for painting flowers, which she used to convey her ideas about colour. By the late 1920s she was widely respected in the London art world, with solo exhibitions at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1927 and the Leicester Galleries in 1930. After her marriage with Ben Nicholson came under strain she moved to Paris in 1932 and befriended and collected a number of Parisian artists, including Mondrian, Gabo and Hélion.

William Staite Murray, Persian Garden, York

William Staite Murray, Persian Garden, York

Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dulwich Picture Gallery is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery, founded in 1811 and designed by Regency architect Sir John Soane. It houses one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the country, especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings and in British portraits from the Tudor period to the 19th century. The Gallery’s Permanent Collection is complemented by its diverse and critically acclaimed year round temporary exhibitions.

Anemones in a Cornish Window (oil on canvas) by Christopher Wood(1901-30) Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery)

Anemones in a Cornish Window (oil on canvas) by Christopher Wood(1901-30) Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery)


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