Ben Nicholson - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, January 18, 2023 | Phillips

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  • I suppose mine are really drawings on prepared copper and I like very much the clear line and resistance of the material and the smooth run of the implement” 
    —Ben Nicholson

    Alongside his paintings and reliefs, for which he became internationally established, Nicholson made a significant body of prints that he produced in phases throughout his life. In the latter half of the 1960s, it was with Swiss printer François Lafranca that Nicholson dove into etching, creating three portfolios of works that would become his largest contribution to British printmaking. Nicholson loved the idea of making a portfolio when it was floated by publisher Ganymed Editions. He went about ordering plates in different shapes and sizes, and enjoyed the variation in Lafranca’s printing saying, "you know my attitude well enough to be sure I should want to make each version different, otherwise I get bored." Like his earlier drypoints, Nicholson treated etching as another form of drawing. His proofs attest to this approach to the technique, each containing unique elements differentiating them from the published editions. 


    Inspired by Greek and Italian architecture, classical still life, and Turkish forms, Nicholson embarked on creating etchings based on his travels to the Mediterranean for the Ganymed portfolios. Classic Roman arches lead the viewer’s eye to the heights of architecture in Urbino (1965). A print that was never editioned, Urbino is the ‘good to print’ proof, approved by Nicholson for reproduction, and an example of the artist’s earlier etching practice which focused on outlined forms. His more mature etching style is evident in Turkish Sundial Between Two Turkish Forms II (1967), one of Nicholson’s later etchings. Compared to the earlier print, the ‘cleanness’ of this proof attests to the artist’s evolution in the technique, which allowed him to transform the solidity of monumental forms into an ethereal fantasy.


    For the present copy of Moonshine (1966), Nicholson worked onto a used drypoint plate, as he would a scrap of used paper. His draftsman’s attitude could not be more apparent, with his previous thoughts and ideas revealed behind the etched composition. The result is an original image, with the true essence of a drawing. Throughout his collaboration with Lafranca, Nicholson requested more and more proofs to be printed, wanting to do further work on each image in his quest for experimentation. Like this copy of Tesserete (1966), some of these he then worked on by hand, adding additions in ink or even paint. For Nicholson, the process of creation was as important as the finished product, making this group of proofs from the Rentsch collection especially significant.


    While Nicholson’s etchings are very closely based on his drawing practice, his experience in etching went on to influence the drawings that followed, which had a greater emphasis on line and pure shape. His adoption of the technique was brief but intense – a four-year period in which he perfected his own idiosyncratic way of marking an etching. The practice of printmaking further enabled the artist to work toward abstraction, creating works that suggested the spirit of the building or object they were based on, and reducing those images to their simplest forms.

    • Provenance

      Collection of Dr. Frank Rentsch
      Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      François Lafranca 85
      Alan Cristea 90 (this copy illustrated)


Turkish Sundial Between Two Turkish Forms II (L. 85, C. 90)

Etching, on wove paper, with full margins.
I. 33.7 x 28.2 cm (13 1/4 x 11 1/8 in.)
S. 48.1 x 43.5 cm (18 7/8 x 17 1/8 in.)

An unsigned proof, there was no recorded edition, framed.

Full Cataloguing

£1,000 - 1,500 

Sold for £1,260

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 18 - 19 January 2023