Titled and signed by the artist as ‘Winifred Dacre’ on the backboard.
Inscribed ‘owned by Andrew Nicholson’ on the backboard.
Inscribed ‘Abstract Sequence No 5‘ & ‘Abstract Seq 5’ on the backboard.
The reverse with a French, landscape sketch.
Pencil, ink and gouache
Executed in 1935
RELATED TO : Abstract Sequence No 3 (variation on cyclamen and primula) 1935, p 151, Unknown Colour, (Andrew Nicholson)
Abstract Sequence No 9 1935, p 151, Unknown Colour (Andrew Nicholson)
Blue Purpose, 1935, p 121, Winifred Nicholson (Andreae)
Sheet height 23.5 cm., 9¼ in,. Length 31.1 cm., 12½ in.
In a ebonised, double moulded frame
Frame height 47 cm., 18 ½ in., Length 54.5 cm., 20 ½ in.,
In 1935, WN worked on a series of paintings that progressively abstracted her 1923 Cyclamen and Primula; ‘I made a series of abstract drawings each one becoming less realistic and more simplified. There are about 15 of these’. She gradually simplified the image until she arrived at the complete abstraction of Blue Purpose. Gross Balance 1 / Abstract Sequence 5 forms part of this small group expressing colour freed from shapes and forms. It is a powerful example of WN’s individual abstract language achieving a pure essence of shape and colour, darkness and light. ‘ You know, I don’t think colours fit themselves on to the rectangles of concrete art any better than they are fixed on to material objects of representational art…for myself I am as happy… with cuckoo flowers as with squares’
Having separated from BN, from the autumn of1932 until September1938, WN and her three children wintered in Paris. ‘I wanted to get to know about abstract art’. She also wanted a reconciliation with BN and knew that Paris would have great appeal to him. Painting trips to the South of France in the Spring months, and summers spent in Cumberland, gave her three very distinct and separate locations, each with unique light and colour in which to explore her abstract and representational motifs.
WN rented an apartment in the 16th arrondissement, a second floor flat at 48 quai d’Auteuil, with a balcony overlooking the Seine. She made strong friendships with the constructivists and modernists, notaby Piet Mondrian, Naum Gabo, Jean Helion, Hans Hartung, Cesar Domela and Hans Erni, Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder Wassily Kandinsky and Jean Hugo.
When she started to produce abstract works in 1934, BN asked WN to use a different surname, partly to emphasise her independence as an artist and separated wife (they did not divorce until 1938), and partly to avoid confusion between his abstracts and hers. Although she felt uncomfortable about using another name, which was a longstanding contentious issue between them, she acquiesced and used an old Howard family name (Winifred’s mother Lady Cecilia, was the daughter of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle) ‘Dacre’ for her abstract work and theoretical writings.
WN experimented with elliptical shapes, upward-opening arcs and gradations of light, exploring the richness of colours intensively. Her abstract forms were not chosen primarily for their structural, formal harmony, but rather for their power to carry or convey colour harmony. The elliptical or oval form can be equated with an egg, with a form full of new life, unlike a circle which is complete and whole and in balance. Jean Arp recognized that her abstracts ‘ opened up a new direction in abstract work’.
WN sent two abstract gouaches, one of which was reproduced on the poster/handlist., to the 14th and final exhibition of the 7 & 5 Society, held at the Zwemmer Gallery in October 1935. Although no catalogue survives from this exhibition, a letter from John Piper to WN reveals that there was one, and that two of her abstract gouaches were shown and Piper thought ‘they looked very well…Ben says you did a series of them and I feel that if they are as good as this one they must be very important contributions… Myfanwy would like to reproduce the rectangular form one in the next Axis if you are willing – we both feel it is one of the most interesting things in the show. It has a direct connection with your older work and with the present movement I feel.’
Although her two gouaches were praised and one was reproduced in Axis, WN seemed to feel for the moment that she could not show any more. The Leicester Galleries offered her a one-person show in July-July 1936 and although she had executed four abstract paintings by then, she resolved to only show figurative work believing that her representational and abstract canvases did not go together. Some of her abstract works were stored in BN’s studio in Hampstead and wee seen by J Martin in 1936 who told WN ‘your contribution does seem to me to be important and still another proof of the scope of modern work’. In July 1937 WN submitted 3 gouaches and 1 painting for the exhibition of Constructive Art held at the London Gallery.
In 1974 WN was encouraged to look again at the abstract body of her work executed in Paris which she had retained intact and unexhibited in her studios.
‘It must have been early in 1975 that my wife and I visited Winifred at Banks Head, mainly to look at the abstract paintings with her and choose two for the Tate, which the Trustees later purchased. She was as lively as a bee – a rather large bee it is true – and clearly pleased that this part of her work was being thought about as a real contribution to the painting of that time. Recently, seeing again some of the abstract paintings, it seemed to me that a number of them hold some of that light and sense of deep space which characterize her work based on the visible world’. Sir Norman Reid. Almost all the works were exhibited at Winifred Nicholson, paintings 1930-1974 the LYC Gallery, Bank, Brampton, Cumbria, December 1974 to January 1975. An Unknown aspect of Winifred Nicholson, abstract paintings 1920-30, was held at the Crane Kalman Gallery in October 1975, which included 26 abstract works.
The points of view of Winifred Nicholson – Christopher Neve
‘The atmosphere of Paris and the mood of modern painting seemed to affect the appearance of objects, their clarity and purity contrasting with the tapestried interiors and mossy landscapes of her earlier career. At the time, she expressed this as a desire to reconcile opposites. Painting might find a way through the jungle of phenomena by choosing things furthest removed from each other and trying to establish a balance between them.
Working alone at 48 quai d’Auteuil, she came to realize that these were not opposites at allbut equal and contemporary parts of the same things. Neither could exist without the other. Moving easily between representational and non-representational styles, because she knew there was no clear distinction between them, she began to experiment with this idea.
Behind her mysteriously beautiful abstracts – which were not seen until comparatively recently in 1975 – lay her friendships with the Paris avant-garde, with Domela, Giacometti, Gabo, Mondrian and Arp. She has vividly described her visits to their studios, noting characteristically the wild apple blossom that over-hung the skylight of Brancusi’s in the Impasse Ronsard. Because of these contacts, her abstracts share the precision and clarity of that phase of European modernism, with its sense of idealism and austerity. But there is also the feeling that she was experimenting freely, with the resulting shapes and conjunctions often springing surprises because they had an independent force and energy.
Her poetic vision could finds its way into even the most uncompromising relationship of geometric figures suggesting depths of ambiguity in the simplest shapes. The circle to her was not so much a circle as a vortex in which vital forces were generated. It moved and became an ellipse.’ (Christopher Neve)
Winifred Nicholson – Written for an exhibition of her abstact paintings at the Kalman Gallery in 1975
‘These were years of inspiration – fizzing like a soda water bottle….Almost everyone one met as expressing genius, inventiveness, dedication to their vision – and sharing it with their confreres. Some were poets, the forerunners of concete poetry, some were sculptors seeking new form, some were doctors seeking new psychology for ill which they knew there could be remedies. Was it really like this? Is my memory of it the fond dream of a past golden age? The recollection of an old octogenarian of a hope that is gone – tired of the challenge of today with its danger and its hard work? What an easy way we unfettered and manifested our inspiration in the 1930’s.
The answer to that question lies in the work that I did then. Is it of any value now? It is part of the 1930’s – it could not be done now. For then I had disgarded all my Pre-Raphaelite romance – copying the visual world of appearance – and with fond delight traced with a compass and set square proportions that leapt out of the canvass unexpected to my thought and to my eye.
The work was experimental – I did not know where it would lead – but it delighted me. I did not throw away the canvases and the boards. And having left Paris and returned to this green and pleasant land, I began to paint again, but near, small, close things, like the face of flowers and the glimmer of sunbeams that touch them.
When I was painting these canvases (in Paris) I felt in the company of star galaxies and their orbits. No light of realistic sunlight but the opposition, not Mondrian’s oppostion of horizontal and vertical, but the equally potent opposition of light and darkness.
How do the canvases stand in our sight now?
It is the same way they looked as I watched the river steamers and barges sailing up and down the Seine in the silver grey of the Paris light? ‘
Winfired Nicholson – Three kinds of artists
‘The eyes of one kind of painter look outward. The eyes of another look inward to the recollections that dwell in the recesses of the mind.
I’m the first kind. But at one time I ventured into that territory which is uncharted visually and depends upon calculations of visual experience.
I was living alone in Paris and all around me the art world was calculating and seeking by their calculations the basic reason for art, the primal forces that build it. They sought such a primal force in geometry; in the circle, the rectangle, the triangle, and their juxtaposition to one another.
No compromises, no wibble-wobble.
In colours, primal red, primal blue, primal yellow – no green, no neutrals; such tones and colours were impure and decadent. Only the three primal colours were valid. Nothing romantic, just the responses of primal forces one to another.
Piet Mondrian was seeing the vertical against the horizontal. Ben Nicholson was seeing the circle against the square: the rectangle is man’s calculation, the circle is a ball to hold in one’s hand. I looked at the circle in another way – as the vortex inside which the vital forces were generated – and so, of course, to me the circle moved and became an ellipse. And so it is that the ellipse was the central, the me, of my pictures; some motifs generate within the ellipse, some travel out of it.
But just as I became engrossed in these phenomena, the war came – and I packed up my painting things and children and returned to England, there to do war work for the next few years. After that how could I go back to the abstract curve of the ellpse? Had I said anything about it of value ? I changed my vision to the abstract curve of colour.’
A Tribute to Winifred Nicholson, November – December, 1982, Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery,
Ben Nicholson and Two wives Winifred Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, March – May, 1996, no.19, Crane Kalman Gallery,
14th and final exhibition of the 7 & 5 Society, held at the Zwemmer Gallery in October 1935 (catalogue not traced), 2 works
Constructive art, London Gallery, July 1937, four works
Winifred Nicholson, paintings 1930-1974, LYC Gallery, Bank, Brampton, Cumbria, December 1974 to January 1975 (catalogue not traced)
An Unknown aspect of Winifred Nicholson, abstract paintings 1920-30, October 1975, Crane Kalman Gallery, 30 works
A Tribute to Winifred Nicholson, November – December, 1982, Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, 60 works
The Nicholsons; works by William Nicholson, Ben Nicholson, Winifred (Dacre) Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, June-July 1983,Crane Kalman Gallery, 9 works
Ben Nicholson and Two wives Winifred Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, March – May, 1996, no.19, Crane Kalman Gallery
Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Andreae, 2009
Unknown Colour: Painting, Letters, Writings by Winifred Nicholson, Andrew Nicholson (ed.) (1987)
Winifred Nicholson – Tate Retrospective Catalogue. The Tate Gallery, London, Judith Collins(1987)
This post was written by joecollinson