Art and Life: Ben and Winifred Nicholson and their circle of the 1920s arrive at Kettle's Yard

By Richard Moss | 17 February 2013

Exhibition Preview: Art & Life 1920-31. Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and William Staite Murray, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, until May 11 2014

a painted coastal scene with rocks, viallge, sea and boat and sky
Ben Nicholson
, 1928 (Cornwall) © Angela Verren Taunt, 2013. All rights reserved, DACS
If we’re to believe many of the histories of British painting during the 20th century, the 1920s were something of a hiatus period, when the fragmented impact of Cubism waned and more traditional methods of representation began to take hold.

Ben and Winifred Nicholson were, in common with many of their peers, in search of new forms in this era. Between 1920 and 1930, as they experimented energetically with new directions, a new simplicity in their artwork seemed to emerge.

Turning their back on the innovations in Paris, the decade closed with the now famous discovery in St Ives, by Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, of the 70-year-old retired fisherman turned painter Alfred Wallis.

The septuagenarian's raw and unfettered paintings on scraps of cardboard and wood offered both artists the immediacy they were searching for and the influence and importance of Wallis to the St Ives school is something still celebrated today.

Yet prior to this fateful meeting the Nicholsons had been on their own artistic journey towards pictorial simplicity, spending time in both Cumberland and Cornwall, where they would often paint the same subject, one as a colourist the other more interested in form.

This welcome exhibition, curated by their grandson Jovan Nicholson, takes a closer look at this journey and at the work they produced both individually and in collaboration with friends.

As well as Wood and Wallis, the supporting cast list includes the potter William Staite Murray, whose own journey from abstraction to simpler forms saw him exhibit with the Nicholsons and Wood.

With works drawn from the collection at Kettle’s Yard and augmented with significant loans from private and public collections, it's another valuable chance to learn how the work of a small group of artists shaped art in the 1920s and beyond.

Click the picture below to launch a gallery of images from the exhibition.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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