Art and Life

18 October 2013 – 12 January 2014

A major international exhibition of work from two of the UK’s most important 20th Century painters, Ben and Winifred Nicholson, will open at Leeds Art Gallery on 18 October until 12 January 2014 before touring to Kettle’s Yard and Dulwich Picture Gallery. 

‘Art and Life’ examines their work both individually and in collaboration with friends and fellow artists Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, and the potter William Staite Murray.  The exhibition has been curated in collaboration with art historian and curator Jovan Nicholson, Winifred and Ben’s grandson, giving unique access and insight into the archive, history and work of the artists and will show key pieces from public and private collections in the UK as well as loans from Europe.

Focusing on the years of Ben and Winifred’s marriage from 1920 - 1931, the important relationships they had with Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and William Staite Murray and ‘Art and Life’ will look at how their work shaped and informed the story of 20th century modern art in this country and explores the key contribution they made to modernism and the visual culture of the mid-twentieth century.  The exhibition positions the Nicholsons’ work alongside their artistic contemporaries as well as in the context of the political and cultural history of the twentieth century, supporting their significant position in the history of British art.

Art and Life examines the artistic partnership of Ben Nicholson and Winifred Nicholson in the 1920s. Inspired by each other, the Nicholsons experimented furiously and often painted the same subject, one as a colourist the other more interested in form. Winifred wrote of her time with Ben, ‘All artists are unique and can only unite as complementaries not as similarities’.

The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication with newly commissioned texts, illustrated in full colour and produced by Philip Wilson Publishers. In the book’s principal essay Jovan Nicholson explores the way ideas flowed between the Nicholsons and Christopher Wood when they painted side by side in Cumberland and Cornwall, with particular emphasis on the meeting with Alfred Wallis in St. Ives in 1928. Art Historian, Sebastiano Barassi focuses on the Nicholsons’ visits to Paris, Italy and Switzerland in the early 1920s, and the potter Julian Stair examines the importance of William Staite Murray, one of the most successful artists at that time. All three essays draw on new research based on previously unpublished letters, photographs and other material. The majority of the items come from private collections, and many are previously unseen.

A programme of talks and events will accompany the exhibition including curator Jovan Nicholson speaking on Weds 27th November 6pm-7pm.  Regular Thursday lunchtime talks on different aspects of the exhibition and in collaboration with Leeds Art Fund include writer and curator Anne Goodchild introducing her new book ‘Dear Winifred… Christopher Wood: Letters to Winifred and Ben Nicholson, 1926-1930’ on 20 November.

A programme of activities in Artspace for families will accompany the exhibition.  All associated talks, events and activities will be advertised from this page. You can also download the exhibition guide from the documents link above.

Teachers, download the resource notes from the link above to help you make the most of a visit with your class.


Image: Angela Verren Taunt 2013. All rights reserved DACS.

Ben Nicholson, Cornish Port, 1930, oil on card,21.5 x 35cm, kettles yard​