Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982) June 15-47 (Foxy) 18 x 18.4 cm. (7 x 7 1/4 in.)

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Lot 50* AR
Ben Nicholson O.M.
(British, 1894-1982)
June 15-47 (Foxy) 18 x 18.4 cm. (7 x 7 1/4 in.)

Sold for £ 300,250 (US$ 410,560) inc. premium
Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982)
June 15-47 (Foxy)
signed and titled 'Ben Nicholson/FOXY' (verso)
pencil and oil on board
18 x 18.4 cm. (7 x 7 1/4 in.)


  • Provenance
    With Lefevre Gallery, London
    Sir Kenneth Clark
    Countess Carla Treccani degli Alfieri, thence by family descent
    Private Collection, U.S.A.

    London, The Lefevre Gallery, Recent Paintings 1947-48 by Ben Nicholson, November 1948,
    Venice, The XXVII Biennale, The British Pavilion, Exhibition of
    works by Nicholson, Bacon, Freud
    , organised by Arts Council of Great Britain, 19 June-17 October 1954,; this exhibition travelled to Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Winter 1954-55, Paris, Musée National D'Art Moderne, 21 January-20 February 1955, Brussels, Palais Des Beaux-Arts, 3-27 March, Zurich, Kunsthaus, 20 April-22 May, and London, Tate Gallery, 16 June-2 August 1955
    Brazil, São Paulo, Fourth International Bienal of São Paulo, 22
    September-30 December 1957,
    Zurich, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Ben Nicholson, 3 January-
    7 February 1959,
    Hannover, Kestner Gesellschaft, Ben Nicholson, 26 February-5
    April 1959,; this exhibition travelled to Mannheim,
    Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, 18 April-18 May, Hamburg, Kunstverein, 30 May-5 July and Essen, Museum Folkwang, 23 July-30 August 1959

    Herbert Read, Ben Nicholson, Paintings, Reliefs, Drawings, Volume 1, Lund Humphries, London, 1948, pl.190 (ill.b&w)

    Rarely do 20th century British paintings appear for sale with more impeccable provenance than Ben Nicholson's sublime June 15-47 (Foxy), originally owned by Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), the hugely influential British art historian, museum director and broadcaster. Sir Kenneth became the Director of the esteemed Ashmolean Museum in Oxford at just twenty-seven, which was followed up by his appointment as Director of Britain's world-famous National Gallery at the age of thirty; the youngest person ever to hold this position. He oversaw the removal of the museum's collection out of London for safe-keeping during World War II and vehemently believed during his twelve year tenure that art should be made accessible to all. Later during his career, he joined Sir David Attenborough at the newly formed BBC2 and presented the ground-breaking new series, Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark (1966-69), consisting of thirteen programmes each fifty minutes long which focussed chiefly on the visual arts and architecture. The ownership of the painting then passed (date unknown) into the distinguished collection of Countess Carla Treccani degli Alfieri (1924-1994). She was the daughter of Giovanni Treccani (1877-1961), an Italian textile industrialist, publisher and cultural patron who established the Giovanni Treccani Institute in 1925, which launched the Italian Encyclopaedia of Science, Letters and Arts containing a mammoth thirty-five volumes of text. It is likely the present lot was acquired by the Countess's father through his extensive international cultural connections.

    By the time Ben Nicholson drew and painted June 15-47 (Foxy), in 1947, he had already produced an impressive body of abstract works. From his first experiments with abstraction, those handful of paintings made in the 1920s, through the seminal white reliefs of the early 1930s, and the more hard-edged colourful works informed by the Constructivist movement later that decade, Nicholson had a masterful command of what was seen by many in Britain as a radical new pictorial language. Inspired by many sources, (Cubism from Paris, along with the works of Moholy-Nagy, Malevich and Kandinsky among others), he succeeded in rarely being derivative.

    The artist's own writings on abstract art are the best insight into their development and objectives:

    'At first the circles were freely drawn and the structure loose with accidental textures, later I valued more the direct contact that could be obtained by flat planes of colour made and controlled to an exact pitch and the greater tension obtainable by the use of true circles and rectangles – the superficial appeal became less, but the impact of the idea more direct and therefore more powerful. The geometric forms often used by abstract artists do not indicate, as has been thought, a conscious and intellectual mathematical approach – a square or a circle in art are nothing in themselves and are alive only in the instinctive and inspirational use an artist can make of them in expressing a poetic idea.' (Ben Nicholson, Notes on "Abstract" Art in Ben Nicholson, Paintings, Reliefs, Drawings, Volume I, Lund Humphries, London, 1955, pp.25-26).

    June 15-47 (Foxy) has a very personal attachment to Ben Nicholson, heightening its appeal. Foxy was the name of one of the cats the Nicholsons owned in the 1930s, the other was Frankie (see fig.1). Both were integrated into a renowned 1933 series of abstract black and white linocuts titled Foxy and Frankie (see fig.2), which is highly sought after by collectors. Whilst the Kenneth Clark oil differs considerably, not least in its colourful, typical palette for the late 1940s, similarities are apparent. The use of strong linear, angled lines by the artist, with circles placed within to denote eyes, is a unifying theme. It serves to remind us that Nicholson's development, whilst at times profound and radical, was rooted in his formative years of the 1930s. With June 15-47 (Foxy) we are presented with a perfectly realised, balanced and harmonious accomplishment by Britain's foremost abstract protagonist.
Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982) June 15-47 (Foxy) 18 x 18.4 cm. (7 x 7 1/4 in.)
Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982) June 15-47 (Foxy) 18 x 18.4 cm. (7 x 7 1/4 in.)
Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982) June 15-47 (Foxy) 18 x 18.4 cm. (7 x 7 1/4 in.)
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