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An image of 1946 (still life - Alice through the looking glass) by Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

(England 10 Apr 1894 – 06 Feb 1982)

1946 (still life - Alice through the looking glass)
Other titles:
Still life (Alice through the looking glass)
Still Life no. 6
Media category
Materials used
oil and pencil on canvas

68.6 x 76.2 cm stretcher; 91.1 x 99.6 x 6.5 cm frame

Signature & date
Not signed. Dated verso, "...1946".
Purchased 1949
Accession number
© Ben Nicholson/DACS. Licensed by Viscopy, Australia
Modern gallery
Further information

The first thing the viewer notices about this painting is its graphic quality. With its dependence on pencil marks and pallid colours, it hardly seems painted at all. The artist organised his surface into clearly defined, overlapping shapes with little regard to depth or dimensional interplay. The illusionism which was once the mainstay of the oil-on-canvas technique has given way to its opposite, a kind of insubstantiality. Discoveries made by Picasso and Braque before 1914 inform this belated British example of cubism . Ben Nicholson painted his first abstract in 1924 and carved his first purist relief a decade later, though representational motifs occur throughout his career. His father was the Edwardian artist and illustrator, Sir William Nicholson, some of whose pictorial discretion he inherited. Painted near the famed enclave of artists at St Ives, Cornwall, this composition is as devoid of painterly excess and vulgar display as it is full of nuance.

AGNSW Handbook, 1999.

Provenance (2)

The Lefevre Gallery, 1946, London/England

The British Council, 1949, London/England, Purchased by the AGNSW from the British Council 1949. Purchased from the exhibition 'Eleven British Artists' Australian State Galleries 1949.

Bibliography (13)

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 56 (colour illus.).

Emmanuel Bénézit, Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs de tous les temps et de tous les pays par un groupe d'écrivans spécialistes français et étrangers, Paris, 1953, 464 (illus.).

René Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'European', pg. 36-56, Sydney, 1988, 56.

Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales catalogue of British paintings, Sydney, 1987, 138 (illus.).

Renée Free, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'The Western Heritage, Renaissance to Twentieth Century', pg. 108-172, Sydney, 1994, 164 (colour illus.).

Ted Gott, Laurie Benson and Sophie Matthiesson, Modern Britain 1900-1960, Melbourne, 2007, 206 (colour illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', pg. 17-77, Sydney, 1999, 63 (colour illus.).

Anne Kirker and Peter Tomory, British painting 1800–1990 in Australian and New Zealand public collections, Sydney, 1997, 139. 1596

Ben Nicholson, Ben Nicholson, London, 1955, (illus.). Vol. 1, plate no. 173

Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart, Favourites: Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart selections, Sydney, 2002. No catalogue numbers; titled 'Still life'; Jeffrey Smart selection.

The British Council (Organiser), Eleven British artists, London, 1949, (illus.). 26, listed as 'Still Life (No. 6)'

The British Council, Modern British Paintings, London, 1947. 37

The Lefevre Gallery, (Ben Nicholson), London, 1946. 70, listed as 'Still Life (6)'

Exhibition history (8)

Modern British Paintings, British Institute, Athens, Athens, Oct 1947–Nov 1947

Eleven British Artists, Australia 1949:

Purchases and Acquisitions for 1949, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Dec 1949–17 Feb 1950

18 British Paintings from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, Jun 1965–Jul 1965

Favourites: Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart (2002), S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 12 Jan 2002–24 Feb 2002

Modern Britain 1900-1960, NGV: International, Melbourne, 15 Nov 2007–24 Feb 2008

(Ben Nicholson), The Lefevre Gallery, London, 1946?–1946?

Matisse and the moderns, 25 Apr 2015–25 Oct 2015