Thursday, June 05, 2014

Winifred Nicholson at Dulwich Picture Gallery

The new exhibition at the Dulwich Art Gallery has an awfully long title Art and Life: Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, William Staite Murray, 1920 – 1931.  I'm not a fan of long titles - but that's by the by.

There's also a story to the exhibition - about how painters influence one another, but frankly the interest of that for me always lies in the impact of that influence and consequential output rather than the explanation.

However there is a very good reason to go and see the exhibition.....

Flyer for the new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery
Visit Dulwich Picture Gallery (before 21 September) and see this exhibition and find out about the paintings of Winifred Nicholson (Tate) who is an undoubted colourist. It's certainly no accident that it's her painting on the flyer and poster for the exhibition.

Winifred Nicholson saw colour, wrote about colour, was interested in paint colours, experimented with arrangements of colour (using flowers) and she painted colour.  I'm afraid three of the other artists large saw and thought in muted shades of brown and green - and I simply don't find that very interesting. It's almost as if they can't see colour.

Flower Table: Pots (1927) by Winifred Nicholson
(left) Cyclamen and Primula (1922) and (right) Polyanthus and Cineraria (1921)
by Winifred Nicholson
Brushwork used in Anenomes (1924)
by Winifred Nicholson
In between times she provided an influence for the work of Ben Nicholson and was also influenced by him and gave birth to and raised his three children - until their divorce caused by Nicholson becoming embroiled with Barbara Hepworth who he later married.

Father and son (Ben Nicholson with their first son Jake 1927) by Winifred Nicholson
I can't help feeling she's been an under-rated artist because her subject matter was largely domestic or related to the places where she lived.

Frankly if you're a fan of the later work of Ben Nicholson (Tate) , I'm not sure that the exhibition as a whole is going to be of so much interest unless you like getting to find out about the whole person and the influences on their development.  His paintings between 1920-1931 - the period covered by the show - are quite unlike his later work. In fact I found myself thinking his still life paintings reminded me of a style that looked like "early Mary Fedden" - but without the colour.  In fact "without the colour" would be quite a good way of describing many of Nicholson's paintings in the show. I didn't get any sort of sense that he enjoyed painting them - and I'm afraid I cringed at his repeated paintings of horses. I didn't quite know what to make of his work during this period and I certainly didn't see how the transition  to his later work came about.  Indeed it's knowing about his relationship with Hepworth which makes sense of the developments in his later work.

Three paintings of Northrigg Hill in Cumberland
by Winifred Nicholson, Kit Wood and Ben Nicholson
I'm afraid I didn't come away from the exhibition overly impressed with Kit Wood's painting. Maybe the variation in styles between the paintings was in part responsible for that - he came across to me as somebody who hadn't yet found his way.  Although I understand it's more likely that it's because of his addiction to opium.  It also struck me that he was painting what the others painted - perhaps because he was staying with them at the time - but it seemed to me more than that.

Alfred Wallis's paintings were championed by Ben Nicholson for their simplicity and they are certainly fascinating to look at. I can understand why he valued them however it would be wrong to to describe them as simple.

(left) a painting of the sea by Winifred Nicholson(right) a painting of a schooner with ice bergs by Alfred Wallis - the icebergs alternate with the sails
I guess I came away thinking I'd have rather seen an exhibition devoted to the life and work on Winifred Nicholson in which Ben Nicholson had a walk on part and the other three were nowhere to be seen!

What I did do was buy a very nice publication by Kettles Yard called 'Winifred Nicholson - Music of Colour'.

Exhibition Reviews by:
BBC - Your Paintings has each of the painters:

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