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1933 (St Rémy - self-portrait with Barbara Hepworth)

3 of 6 portraits of Ben Nicholson

© DACS 2018

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1933 (St Rémy - self-portrait with Barbara Hepworth)

by Ben Nicholson
oil on canvas, 1933
10 3/4 in. x 6 5/8 in. (273 mm x 168 mm)
Purchased, 1983
Primary Collection
NPG 5591

Sittersback to top

  • Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), Sculptor; second wife of Ben Nicholson. Sitter in 30 portraits, Artist of 1 portrait.
  • Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), Artist; son of Sir William Nicholson. Sitter in 6 portraits, Artist of 1 portrait.

Artistback to top

  • Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), Artist; son of Sir William Nicholson. Artist of 1 portrait, Sitter in 6 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The work is entitled 'St Rémy, Provence'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 113
  • Audio Guide
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 111
  • Gibson, Robin; Clerk, Honor, 20th Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1993, p. 20
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 196
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 196 Read entry

    In her autobiography Barbara Hepworth described how she and the artist Ben Nicholson, whom she had first met in April 1931 and was to marry in 1935, travelled to the South of France in spring 1932: 'It was my first visit to the South of France, and out of three days at Avignon the most important time for me was spent at St Rémy. It was Easter; and after a bus ride we walked up the hill and encountered at the top a sea of olive trees receding behind the ancient arch on the plateau, and human figures sitting, reclining, walking and embracing at the foot of the arch, grouped in rhythmic relation to the far distant undulating hills and mountain rocks.' During these three happy days early in their relationship, Ben Nicholson drew their profiles superimposed on one another in an image that is slightly prehistoric, as if preserved in the caves of Lascaux, with the hills of Provence in the background. The work hung over the mantelpiece at 7 The Mall Studios in Belsize Park, where they lived together.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 459
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 206 Read entry

    This double portrait by Ben Nicholson of himself with the artist Barbara Hepworth celebrates their close relationship and also marks an important moment in his own artistic development. The two were among the leading British avant-garde artists of the 1930s. They met in 1931 and the following year they began to share a studio in Hampstead. In 1932 they had a joint exhibition in London, which demonstrated their progress towards abstraction. Around the same time, they took the first of several trips together to Paris where they had contact with numerous artists, dealers and critics, including Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and later Piet Mondrian, Jean Arp and Alexander Calder. In 1933, the year that Nicholson painted this portrait, they joined the Abstraction-Création group as well as Unit One, the British group of painters, sculptors and architects that included Henry Moore. These contacts, and the experience of working alongside Hepworth, led Nicholson’s art towards a deeper engagement with pure abstract form. Shortly after painting this portrait he made his first abstract reliefs, which established his international reputation. Nicholson and Hepworth married in 1938.

Events of 1933back to top

Current affairs

Sir Norman Angell is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Angell was recognised for his book, Europe's Optical Illusion (or The Great Illusion) first published in 1910 and updated in 1933, which argued that war between modern powers was futile as neither the looser or victor would gain economically from it.

Art and science

British Art embraces abstraction with the establishment of 'Unit 1', the first group of British Artists dedicated to producing abstract art. The critic Herbert Read formed the group by bringing together the artists Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and the architect, Wells Coates.
The Duveen Wing extension at the National Portrait Gallery is opened by King George V.

International

The Nazi party comes to power in Germany as part of a coalition government with Hitler as Chancellor. Over the next year, the party consolidated its position through the Enabling Act (allowing them to pass legislation without the support of the coalition), by banning and purging opposition, and by making Hitler Führer in 1934: granting him the combined powers of Chancellor and President.

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