Research point:Ben Nicholson



Find out about Ben Nicholson. Why does he simplify still life forms and negative space and superimpose them on a cornish landscape?

Ben Nicholson is said to have had a cubist instinct. So in order to understand him we should try to understand the ideology behind cubism.

Cubism has its germinations found in Cezanne of impressionistic era. He admired the visual language of Poussin,yet did not want to go back to conventional painting from impressionist movement but found mere specs of bright color insufficient for a lasting record.

Some of the things that cubist took further from him were that he simplified naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials, cylinder, sphere and cone. This was not merely modern invention as Plato had stated absolute beauty to be found in mechanically means achieved geometric shapes leaving the legacy of worship to man made objects. Cezanne ignored traditional roles of perspective.

Cezanne did not do somnambulism with art, he was wide awake and analytical about the effect he wanted to achieve this goal orientation was coupled with roman Catholic respect for God,so creation that nature was. “When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God-made object like a tree or flower, if it clashes it is not art. Cezanne agreed with the beauty of geometric shapes but only as transliteration of God’s creation. The painting Lake d’Annecy (1896)



In this painting Cezanne used modulation, this involved superimposed multiple strokes of color creating both a cumulative visual effects and a reverberation that resonated throughout the canvas. What stands out as cubistic in this painting is the reflection that appears solid even. Rather than deconstructing material as cubist would later do, he is handling planes and the way of thinking about the void as we see it or air that is in the distance between solid forms and objects. he is giving a solid format to optical impression. By doing this he has deprived from the reflection to create a sense of distance and the cubic reflection brings the background forward to the same plane with foreground objects making the image appear flat. This is what cubist would later emphasize the 2-dimensional surface of the picture plane. Some have toyed also with the idea that Cezanne knew Einstein who happened to live nearby him, maybe discussed his ideas about quantum theory that suggested that void is full of substance. I dare to suggest here that what Cezanne saw or wanted to see in a landscape was a living organism and each cell and part of it was in interaction with each other interdependently in the painting that created the harmony. The functioning organs he used as visual devices to achieve this were line, color and form.



Ben Nicholson achieves the same unified effect but by different means. Instead of treating a distance as vacuum with substance he ignores it completely.



Color is treated as separate entity as confined geometrical shapes. He has simplified the organic contours to more blend in with  the geometrical lines of the other planes I feel it’s in order not to crash with the flow of line however it’s also cubist language to simplify forms. The ideology of cubism is making not imitating. In painting Four Pears –above,  forms are merely outlined, no tones are even suggested neither highlights nor shadows. The objects has been given equal importance to the negative space  and by the way in which the line travels  in linear perspective -which now only relies on our pre contextual thinking- makes  the image appear  extremely flat. In cubism artist looks at the subject from different sides depicting fragments breaking rules of space and time. This might explain the superimposition of fruits, he placed them there in turns drawing them one after another.

On my opinion Ben Nicholson has left an underlined hypothesis of an existing picture making device (he hasn’t invented it, merely highlighting, simplifying and exploring the method to extreme to a mere hypothesis)  that harmony can be achieved in an image by breaking the isolation of objects by means of form line or color. It’s hypothesis because it can be applied to any genre of painting, like a general rule. By using this rule and perhaps seeing the entire platform of canvas as a living organism making it possible to collate components that would otherwise clash with each other, like a landscape and a still life on a windows sealing.


Viewfinder with grid

I made this viewfinder from the carton frame behind the frame glass and the hard board behind it, I cut equal size square in the center.
Drew a grid on transparent film then clued it sandwiched between the two windows.

Basic shapes, forms, shadows and reflections

What are the difficulties in separating cast shadow from reflected light and shade ?

If there are more than one light sources the clear shadow of the object may be obscured and/or altered, also lighter or darker without no set rules you must rely on your pure perception when painting or drawing in daylight. I did my studies in the night using only one light source except for the last image of stable composition which was done in natural day light. However even then the dominating light source was the window behind the objects. In the following image difference between cast shadow and reflected shadow has been illustrated clearly.

What is the difference between shade and shadow ?

shadow: I. Comparative darkness. 1. a. Comparative darkness, esp. that caused by interception of light; a tract of partial darkness produced by a body intercepting the direct rays of the sun or other luminary.

shade: I. Comparative darkness. 1 a. Partial or comparative darkness; absence of complete illumination; esp. the comparative darkness caused by a more or less opaque object intercepting the direct rays of the sun or other luminary.

Used in the sense of “comparative darkness,” the words are sometimes, but not always interchangeable.

Shade is what one seeks on a hot sunny day. We sit or walk in the shade. Plants that do well in the shade are called shade-loving plants.

Shadow usually refers to a shape cast by an object that blocks the sun. A person casts a shadow in the shape of the human body.


The reflected shadow and light follows the contours of the objects. How have you shown this in your drawing ?

IN stable composition the reflected lights and shadows were difficult to perceive as the dominating light was coming from behind the objects. Theory of the reflected shadow, which is in above apple picture the shadow of the apple on the ground reflected back into the apple as the round dark area shows in the apple, it is combined with the reflection of the white ground and thus is lighter in shade than the shadow itself.  Darkest area of the shadow called “terminator” is further away from the object where there is no reflections of the ground bouncing back to the ground. Note also how the reflected light on the right side of apple creates a halo around reflected shadow. The upper side of apple on the right is in shade and its value is the same as the reflected shadow, I dont know if its stable rule of thumb in theory. The black box with number 4 is how dark the terminator shadows is at furthers point in comparison.