Ben Nicholson


Ben Nicholson

Untitled Mural, May 1947



Cornish Art & fine Art April 11th


Ben Nicholson

UPDATE: 11th April. Lot withdrawn

Ben Nicholson Untitled Wall mural 1947
We have been notified by the Ben Nicholson Catalogue Raisonné committee that in their opinion, the mural is

"not a work by Ben Nicholson in whole, or in part"

This remarkable (and so far unexplained) about-face by the committee members puts their
previous conclusion into question, therefore we believe it is in the best interests
of our clients to withdraw the work, pending further research.


An extraordinary gift from a pioneer of british modernism
Collectors of studio pottery may be familiar with the name William Staite Murray (1981-1962) who considered himself 'an artist who made pots' and was a friend to and exhibited alongside Ben Nicholson. He moved in sophisticated artistic circles that included Paul Nash, Jacob Epstein, Winifred and Ben Nicholson, also Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. His first pottery was established on the premises of his brother's engineering works in 1919. His brother Frederick Staite Murray, 'Fred' (1888-1972) although an engineer, together with his wife Madge, became enthusiastic collectors and patrons to this circle of celebrated artists. It is this important connection that led to a longstanding and highly supportive friendship between
Ben Nicholson and Fred & Madge Staite Murray.
Fred & Madge Staite Murray
Fred & Madge Staite Murray
Over the course of their lifetime, the Staite Murrays purchased and were gifted multiple works by Nicholson.
The Staite Murrays were excellent artistic patrons; buying frequently from early shows, being constantly supportive and happy
to lend early works back and forth to Nicholson when they were needed for exhibitions.
It is likely that gratitude led to the creation of this remarkable work. It was painted onto the wall of Staite Murray's home, Red Stream Cottage in Bramley, Surrey. Although the substantial correspondence between the Murrays and Nicholson over many years suggest regular contact in person, it is not until a letter of 1947 places Nicholson at Red Stream Cottage, staying in May of that year.
 In May of 1947, Nicholson was holding an important retrospective of his work at the Lefevre Gallery in London, for which he asked to
borrow five of his early works from Fred & Madge, almost half of their collection. Their walls must have looked quite bare!
All the paintings he borrowed for this exhibition were created in the 1920s and 30s.
One of the works 'Le Quotidien' 1932, is pictured below (right).
   BN 1930s works
The mural (centre) with Venetian Red 1932 (left) and Le Quotidien 1932 (right)
Stylistically, the mural contains many elements of Nicholson's earlier paintings of the 1930s; his use of lettering, scattered dots and
lines are prevalent. But his use of geometric lines and shapes within the mural also align strongly with the works he was creating
in the mid to later 1940s. We also know from his correspondence that he was developing a great appreciation of the music of Bach in 1947.
  Mural with works from 1947 & 49       
The mural (centre) with two works from 1947 and 1949
It is not implausible to think that having stripped their walls of so many paintings, Nicholson painted the mural to show his
appreciation, one that merged elements of his current work, and of the paintings he had taken away.
It was a gift that the Staite Murrays were rightly proud of. It adorned the wall of a room where an alabaster sculpture by Hepworth was displayed and in later years was protected by a layer of perspex.  Madge died in 1991. Her close neighbours of over 25 years, the Metcalfs, remembered her fondly. Over time, they heard her many stories about famous artists and were shown the Nicholson mural. After Madge's death, they acted as custodians, ensuring new owners of Red Stream Cottage were informed of the remarkable legacy within their walls.
Although some of the Nicholson specialists consulted for the programme felt that the work was a collaboration between Nicholson and Fred, the programme's researchers made an emphatic case for the mural being by the single hand of Nicholson, a gift for his good friends the Staite Murrays. The weight of evidence and provenance revealed made fascinating and compelling viewing. 
The current owners have had the mural expertly removed and preserved.
It is now beautifully presented and can be viewed at our Penzance Saleroom.
A remarkable work from one of the most distinguished pioneers of abstract art.





 Latest news 


The news, history and stories behind our art and antiques