It’s natural for an artist’s work to evolve over a lifetime, to be guided by their experiences and relationships. This exhibition showcases such development in the work of five artists, but the heart of this show is the husband and wife pairing of Ben and Winifred Nicholson and how their art evolved together over the course of 11 years from 1920 to 1931.
Ben Nicholson is well known for his later abstract works but the exhibition begins with both Nicholsons demonstrating their respective talents as representational painters of landscapes and still lifes. Dulwich Picture Gallery has done a superb job of hanging similar works by both artists next to each other. This ensures visitors continually question who was the more accomplished painter, as they move between paired works.
The other artists on display are less impressive. Both William Staite Murray and Alfred Wallis pale in comparison with the married couple. Christopher Wood also struggles to make an impact save for his gloomy and atmospheric Cumberland landscape.
Art and Life concludes at the point when Ben and Winifred had started to live apart, eventually leading to divorce. This is when Ben Nicholson’s trademark abstract style began to evolve. It’s a shame this exhibition ends here as it would have been interesting to see the Nicholsons’ styles as they diverged.
Though some of the work on display is less than captivating, the narrative of the evolution of the Nicholsons as painters binds this exhibition together, and solid curation ensures this comes through clearly without providing too much detail.
Art and Life is on at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD until 21 September. Tickets are £11 for adults and include entry into the permanent collection, concessions available.
For more art to see, check out our June listings.