‘As if painting had begun again, from the beginning’ This is how John Russell, writing in his pivotal work on the artist, described another of the rare and groundbreaking paintings of fireworks done by Ben Nicholson in 1929, which was acquired by Margaret Gardiner and is now in the renowned Pier Collection.
Russell goes on to write ‘Sometimes the objects are flattened out and sited ambiguously in space; sometimes the table-top shelves up steeply towards the observer; invariably we see more of the scene than we could actually see in life. These elements from Cezanne and the cubists co-habit, however, with something of the lyrical touch that everyone admired in his father.'
At the vanguard of Modernist painting in England in the late 1920’s, absorbing the work of both Picasso and Braque, but Nicholson was developing his own vision; whereas Braque was interested in the merging and plasticity of objects, Nicholson emphasised their flatness and individual nature. Nicholson was also to visit Mondrian in 1934; however ‘Fireworks’ clearly shows his experimentation with an extensive range of intensive hues well in advance of his meeting with the Dutch artist.
During recent research, an important aspect of the paintings history has been discovered in that it was first acquired by Geoffrey Grigson, the influential British writer, art critic and champion of Nicholson. This was probably in the 1930s when they were both living in Hampstead. It remained in Grigson’s collection until sold in 1960. Grigson was called by G S Fraser “one of the most important figures in the history of English taste in our time”.
It was then acquired by the legendary patron of the arts British-born American actress, Drue Heinz, where it hung alongside other masterworks by Modigliani, Magritte and Giacometti.