St Ives Rooftops (Salubrious) Oct 19 - 51 oil and pencil on linen textured card 32 x 44.3 cm. (12 5/8 x 17 3/8 in.) Executed in October 1951
PROVENANCE: Purchased directly from the artist in St Ives by the family of the present owner, 1952
EXHIBITED: London, The Lefevre Gallery, Ben Nicholson, May 1952, no.24 Zurich, Galerie Lienhard, 1959 (touring exhibition) Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, 18 April-18 May 1959, no.36 Bristol, Bristol City Art Gallery, 1987-1992
LITERATURE: John Russell, Ben Nicholson, drawings paintings and reliefs 1911-1968, Thames and Hudson, London, 1969, cat.no.50 (listed as circa 1944, St Ives from BN terrace, Trezion) (ill.b&w)
Appearing as a full page black and white plate (no.50) in the Thames and Hudson 1969 literature on Ben Nicholson, the present work is there incorrectly dated as circa 1944 and listed as 'present whereabouts not known'.
Actually painted and drawn in the autumn of 1951, the year in which Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth divorced, a time of personal upheaval for both artists, St Ives Rooftops (Salubrious), Oct 19 51 depicts the view from Nicholson's new home, Trezion, situated at the top of a steep alley called Salubrious Place, hence why we see the word Salubrious in brackets in the title. His domestic vantage point provided Nicholson with a panoramic view over St Ives, the Cornish town which he had been painting since as early as the 1920s. But this new perspective of St Ives, depicting the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of rooftops, lent Nicholson a fresh and fun vehicle to work with. With his strong sense of line and perfectly delineated shapes Nicholson has created an image grounded in geometry like a number of his masterpieces dotted throughout the 1950s, whist at the same time retaining a picture-postcard-like beauty. The work's unusual support of linen textured card has a white paint ground applied to it with a soft pale blue introduced in parts over this. The gentle incorporation of this colour echoes some of his great paintings from the same period, such as 1952 (mural) (Time-Life Building, London) and 1952, June 4 (tableform) (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, U.S.A.). In contrast, Nicholson has then used a very soft pencil to block in five small black shapes with such intensity that they create almost a relief format to the work, effectively pushing the roof tops out of the picture plane towards the viewer and creating a strong sense of depth and perspective. In one sense representational, the recognisable forms have been simplified to their most basic outlines creating a pure image of semi abstraction. Nicholson commented on this tension:
'The kind of painting I find exciting is not necessarily representational or non-representational, but it is both musical and architectural, where the architectural construction is used to express a "musical" relationship between form, tone, colour and whether this visual "musical", relationship is slightly more or less abstract is for me beside the point.'
(quoted in Norbert Lynton, Ben Nicholson, Phaidon Press, London, p.138)
It is interesting to note how just four days before Nicholson completed the present lot he drew, in pencil on paper, a very similar work of the town and harbour, St Ives (full moon behind cloud), (sold Bonhams, 16 March 2004, £38,240 to a Private Collection) and just the day after its creation on October 20th painted, this time in oil and pencil on board, a colourful version of this charming view punctuated with red boats and green hills, October 20 1951 (St Ives Harbour from Trezion) (Private Collection).
Lawrence Ogilvie was a founding member and a Chairman of the Friends of the Bristol Art Gallery and gifted his sculpture, Kathleen, by Sir Jacob Epstein to the gallery. He was also on the founding committee of Bristol's Arnolfini Gallery, which today enjoys status as one of the countries leading centres for the contemporary arts. Himself a keen watercolourist he formed an impressive collection of art, by both British and Continental artists, spanning the 1930s-1950s, part of which Bonhams are proud to offer at auction, all for the very first time.
Born Lawrence Ogilvie in 1898 in Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire he attended Aberdeen Grammar School and took his BSc and MA at the University of Aberdeen where he gained a distinction in Botany and Zoology. He also lectured at Aberdeen on the Alpine flora of China and in 1923 at Emmanuel College, Cambridge was awarded an MSc for his work on slime fluxes on trees.
From 1923-1928 he resided in Bermuda, and as the government's first plant pathologist was instrumental in developing their agricultural practices. These included seed testing, establishing plant quarantine and investigating the banana losses on the island from the Mediterranean Fruit Fly. Among a multitude of achievements whilst living in Bermuda, including attending the 8th West Indian Agricultural Conference as their delegate, he wrote The Insects of Bermuda (1928) in which he described 395 species, one of which was discovered by him and carries his name, Aphid Ogilvie. On his return from Bermuda in the winter of 1928 he moved to Bristol (where he lived close to the artist Paul Feiler who features strongly in his collection) and was appointed Advisory Mycologist at Long Ashton Research Station.
His time on Bermuda working with vegetable crops provided Lawrence Ogilvie with the experience to identify and treat European wheat diseases. As the leading British expert on the diseases of cereal crops and vegetables during World War II he played an important part in the post-war challenge of feeding Britain. With hundreds of merchant ships being sunk by German submarines carrying food imports it became all the more necessary to create home-grown disease-free wheat. Ogilvie excelled, and with his team of scientists advised farmers on how to avoid the destructive Black Stem Rust and Take All diseases. Lawrence Ogilvie continued this work until his retirement in 1963 and died on 16 April, 1980.
Lawrence Ogilvie forged close friendships with a number of the artists who feature in the collection, perhaps most notably Ben Nicholson. There is a charming black and white photograph of Nicholson holding Ogilvie's cat, reproduced alongside the catalogue entry for St Ives Rooftops (Salubrious) Oct 19 -51 (lot 75). He was a close neighbour of Paul Feiler in Bristol, before the artist's permanent move to Cornwall, and works in the collection by him span three decades. Feiler later exhibited on a regular basis at the Arnolfini Gallery, which Ogilvie was instrumental in establishing. However, he was not restricted to just collecting art close to home. Works by major European artists were also sought after and the Ogilvie Collection at one stage included a significant oil portrait by Amedeo Modigliani. Meticulous in his record keeping, most of the works in the collection retain their original receipts of purchase and, even more interestingly, personal correspondence from artist to collector. Once again, Bonhams are delighted and privileged to present part of The Ogilvie Collection in this sale of 20th Century British and Irish Art.