Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982) March 1962 (Phrygia) 48.8 x 42.5 cm. (19 1/4 x 16 3/4 in.) (including the artist's prepared backboard)

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Lot 51AR
Ben Nicholson O.M.
(British, 1894-1982)
March 1962 (Phrygia) 48.8 x 42.5 cm. (19 1/4 x 16 3/4 in.) (including the artist's prepared backboard)

Sold for £ 156,500 (US$ 213,440) inc. premium
Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982)
March 1962 (Phrygia)
signed, inscribed and dated 'Ben/Nicholson/Mch/62/Phrygia' (verso)
oil and pencil on carved board relief
48.8 x 42.5 cm. (19 1/4 x 16 3/4 in.) (including the artist's prepared backboard)

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    With CAPA Foundation, Philadelphia
    With Galerie Herbage, Cannes
    With Waddington Galleries, London, 17 December 1984, where purchased by the family of the present owner
    Private Collection, U.K.

    Exhibited
    London, Marlborough Fine Art, New London Gallery, Ben Nicholson, April-May 1963, cat.no.11
    Tokyo, Tokyo Ginza Art Centre, Ben Nicholson, 1982, cat.no.8

    Literature
    John Russell, Ben Nicholson: Drawings, Paintings and Reliefs 1911-1968, Thames and Hudson, London, 1969, p.319, pl.224, cat.no.224 (ill.b&w)

    In classical antiquity Phrygia was a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, present day Turkey, centred on the Sangarios river. We know from ancient inscriptions that the Phrygians spoke an Indo-European language and archaeological evidence would suggest that settlers migrating from the Balkans arrived here around one hundred years following the destruction of the Hittite empire, circa 1200 B.C. The capital of Phrygia was Gordion, located about 60 miles southwest of Turkey's present day capital Ankara. The most famous of the Phrygian kings was Midas who ruled in the last decades of the eighth century B.C. and is known from Greek history and mythology to have had the gods bestow the gift of everything he touched turning to gold. The Phrygian and Greek worlds were closely connected with the Phrygians appearing in Homer's Iliad, where they participated in the Trojan War and were known for their 'brave and expert horsemen'.

    Ben Nicholson was a keen traveller, living in Switzerland during the 1950s and 60s and visiting Greece on at least five occasions, in addition to trips to France and Italy amongst many others. These visits resulted in numerous line drawings and studies based on the architecture and landscape that he was observing with the titles often given to the specific location. The drawings that were executed on the spot were often later used as part of the process for developing more complex, time-consuming compositions, such as the relief works like Phrygia (1962). Nicholson would also often work from memory, recalling the atmosphere, colours and light that had affected him during his visits and translating those to his work. As with Phrygia, his concern was not with realistically conveying the scene but rather presenting a personal interpretation based on the overall experience. The artist spoke of this method, 'one of the main differences between a representational and an abstract painting is that the former can transport you to Greece by a representation of blue skies and seas, olive trees and marble columns, whereas the abstract version by its free use of form and colour will be able to give you the actual quality of Greece itself, and this will become a part of the light and space and life in the room'.

    Ben Nicholson's white relief carvings of the 1930s may be considered the most ground-breaking abstract works in modern British art. Influenced by a trip to Paris and the purity of Mondrian, whose studio he visited in 1933, as well as the three-dimensional work of both Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore he continued to explore the process throughout his career. Phrygia incorporates varying shapes and forms, carved into the board's surface to create differing depths and relationships to one another. Nicholson has spent much time working on the relief by scrubbing and scraping at it, thus giving each section a different texture and association. The subtle choice of colours evoke the natural world and the surface imperfections were welcomed by the artist who did not intend on filling or smoothing them out.

    We are grateful to Dr. Lee Beard for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
Contacts
Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982) March 1962 (Phrygia) 48.8 x 42.5 cm. (19 1/4 x 16 3/4 in.) (including the artist's prepared backboard)
Ben Nicholson O.M. (British, 1894-1982) March 1962 (Phrygia) 48.8 x 42.5 cm. (19 1/4 x 16 3/4 in.) (including the artist's prepared backboard)
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