British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 245.000 mm
Width: 317.000 mm
Prints and Drawings
Ben Nicholson, Three Mugs and a Bowl, a linocut
England, AD 1928
Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) is best known as a pioneer of abstract art in Britain. He carved and painted reliefs in an austere, geometric style which placed him as a leader of the Constructivist movement in London during the 1930s. Nicholson's printmaking in the late 1920s and 1930s developed out of his interest in flat patterns, varied textures and incised surfaces, which he was then exploring in his paintings. Like all his linocuts between 1926 and 1930, this print is a still life based on varying arrangements of domestic crockery. Many of the objects he used came from his family, including pieces belonging to his father William Nicholson, the painter and leading woodcut artist of the turn of the twentieth century. Ben Nicholson later recalled, 'not only did my father paint innumerable still lives but from as long as I can remember my home was full of the most lovely spotted mugs and striped jugs and glass objects which he'd collected'.
Made in tiny numbers for his own use, Nicholson's linocuts from this period were given to close friends rather than sold commercially. In this example he has allowed the black ink almost to dry on the block before printing the impression, thereby achieving the textural surface seen here. Nicholson's spare linear style makes the least concession to any decoration or sense of spatial recession and explains why he was so attracted to making monochromatic linocuts.
F. Carey and A. Griffiths, Avant-garde British printmakin, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)
Herbert Read, Ben Nicholson: paintings, reli, 2 vols. (London, Lund Humphries, 1948-56)