Ben Nicholson - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | Phillips
  • "The kind of painting which I find exciting is not necessarily representational or non-representational, but it is musical and architectural. Whether this visual relationship is slightly more or slightly less abstract is, for me, beside the point." —Ben NicholsonCarving into the thick, rubbery surface of linoleum floor tile, it is said artist Ben Nicholson created his first linocut by prying up and cutting into a piece of his father’s flooring. Ever resourceful, Nicholson inked these early linocuts himself and printed them by hand in black. Heightened by the absence of color, Nicholson’s linocuts explored flattened space and pure form. During the post-war period, Nicholson’s printmaking oeuvre focused primarily on etching, making his early linocut impressions, which were never formally editioned, all the more rare.

    Nicholson was “motivated perhaps by a sense of discovery and a delight in producing intimate works of art,” wrote Jeremy Lewison, Art Historian, and Curator, in his essay for Ben Nicholson Prints 1928-1968. Foxy & Frankie (lot 16); and Foxy & Frankie (lot 17), 1933, are remarkable examples of these aims. There is a spirit of enjoyment to these prints as line bounces around the plate edges, contained within Nicholson's viscous application of ink and paint. Given the similarities in the maze-like compositions, it is possible both images were printed from the same carved linoleum block, which Nicholson then perhaps altered by hand-painting in areas to make two distinctly different images. Aptly named Foxy and Frankie, after Ben Nicholson’s beloved cats, the works feel playful, coy, and mysterious as Nicholson depicts his cherished felines through abstract forms.


    Anonymous, Photograph of Ben Nicholson holding his cat Foxy, c. 1955. Tate Archive © Charles Gimpel Estate.

    Lewison described the motivation behind Nicholson’s linocuts in his essay “The Early Prints of Ben Nicholson” for Print Quarterly, 1985 as:
    "a desire to produce a textured surface; an interest in the form and character of an object removed from its context; an agile use of line to define both plane and mass, and a sense of rhythm and interval in the construction of the composition."Nicholson’s affinity for material, formal art exploration and Cubism closely aligned him with his Modernist contemporaries. “Before [1933] Nicholson had been painting still lifes in a manner related to Picasso’s work and more abstract paintings revealing his interest in Miró and Calder,” noted Lewison in his essay “The Early Prints of Ben Nicholson”. Lewison goes further to link the compositional similarities of Foxy & Frankie to the mobiles of Alexander Calder which Nicholson would have known at the time. 

    “Nicholson was not interested in linocut as an art for the masses,” wrote Lewison. Instead, Nicholson utilized linocut as experimentation, never formally editioning his work and often varying impressions through inking and hand-painting. The Foxy & Frankie linocuts were given away by Nicholson as gifts to family, and close associates. Interested in the way his work could represent space, linocut influenced Nicholson to incorporate relief elements and similar visual language into his later works. Triangular forms, circles, and interconnecting lines appear throughout Nicholson’s work, even showing up in later paintings which explore compositions related to his linocuts.

    • Provenance

      Frank Rentsch, Switzerland
      Alan Cristea Gallery, London

    • Literature

      Alan Cristea 3 (this impression illustrated)
      Print Quarterly, Jeremy Lewison, The Early Prints of Ben Nicholson, June, 1985, II.I.b, see fig. 68

Property of a Distinguished Private Collector


Foxy & Frankie (C. 3, P.Q. II.I.b)

Linocut in black oil paint, on wove paper, with full margins.
I. 6 1/2 x 6 in. (16.5 x 15.2 cm)
S. 10 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (26 x 22.2 cm)

Signed with initials, titled, dated and annotated '2' in a circle and 'Frankie & Foxy' in pencil, one of possibly two impressions, framed.

Full Cataloguing

$15,000 - 20,000 

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220


Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 20 - 22 April 2021