The wooduct '1934 (5 circles)', also known as 'Composition' or 'Abstract', was part of the album '23 Gravures’, commissioned by French art critic Anatole Jakovski and published by Editions G Orobitz in Paris in July 1935. The album consisted of 23 prints, including mostly surrealist works by Picasso, Miró, Arp, Kandinsky, Calder, Ernst and De Chirico, and was preceded by a rather surrealistic prose poem by Jakovski about the city. The album was printed in an edition of 50 of which 20, numbered 1 to 20, were available for sale and 30, numbered I to XXX, were given up to the artists and collaborators. In addition, an unspecified number of artist’s proofs were made. Nicholson signed and dated his prints but did not number them.
Nicholson’s contribution to the album stands out as rather an odd inclusion, as he was the only British artist invited and had already ceased to paint in a surrealist manner by 1934. The only woodcut he ever made, '1934 (5 circles)' reflects his growing interests in abstraction – if it retains a strong suggestion of a table-top still life, the print remains resolutely abstract. The simple black and white composition of geometrically inexact rectangles, squares and circles shows Nicholson’s free-hand method.
Carl Plate returned from London in July 1940, determined to set up his own modern art gallery, to enable people in Sydney to see what was happening in the art world. The first major show '‘England today’, exhibition of modern British art' opened at his newly established Notanda Gallery in Rowe Street, Sydney, in October 1940 and at Myers in Melbourne a month later. The show was comprised of 64 works by 32 artists Plate had met in London, including Ben Nicholson and his then partner Barbara Hepworth, Duncan Grant and Henry Moore. Plate used '1934 (5 circles)' – the most abstract work in the show – as the cover of his catalogue. Surviving correspondence between the British artist and Plate revealed Nicholson’s sensitivity to Gordon Andrew’s exhibition catalogue design: ‘I admired the lay-out and typography of your catalogue and was pleased to meet my woodcut on the cover – how nicely it was placed in relation to the type and shape of the page’. Despite enthusiastic reviews, Plate barely sold any work from the show and instead kept this print for the rest of his life.
From the edition of 50, printed by the artist, Paris, commissioned by Anatole Jakovski as part of the album '23 Gravures', published by Editions G Orobitz, Paris. The album was printed in an edition of 50 of which 20, numbered 1 to 20, were available for sale and 30, numbered I to XXX, were given up to the artists and collaborators. In addition, an unspecified number of artist’s proofs were made
15.9 x 20.0 cm image; 21.1 x 25.6 cm sheet
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.l., pencil "Ben Nicholson 1934".
Gift of Jocelyn Plate in honour of Carl Plate 2018. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Ben Nicholson/DACS. Licensed by Copyright Agency
Shown in 2 exhibitions
'England today', exhibition of modern British art:
Art without epoch: an exhibition of overseas loan works exhibited by the Contemporary Art Society of NSW, Contemporary Art Society (New South Wales), 22 Apr 1950–10 May 1950
Referenced in 7 publications
Jeremy Lewison, Print Quarterly, vol 2, 'The early prints of Ben Nicholson', Jun 1985, pp 105–24: pp 110, 118, no 14c, illus p 119, no 75.
Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson Prints 1928–1968, The Rentsch Collection, London, 2007, pp 18, 124, no AC20, col illus cat 7, p .
Cassi Plate, Carl Plate: collage 1938-1976, Gymea, 2009, illus p .
Cassi Plate, Sydney moderns: art for a new world, ‘Carl Plate and the Notanda Gallery’, Sydney, 2013, pp 276–77: p 276, illus p 277.
Art without epoch: an exhibition of overseas loan works exhibited by the Contemporary Art Society of NSW, Sydney, 1950, p , no 57. As 'Composition', lent by C.O. Plate, Esq.
‘England today’, exhibition of modern British art, Sydney, 1940, p , no 46, illus cover page. As 'Composition'.
Bulletin, [On the exhibition 'England today'], 23 Oct 1940.