Ben Nicholson’s painting of a pretty, quiet harbour bay in weathered hues of gold, magnolia and grey, is disrupted by large abstract shapes that seem to float and hover in the plane. The bay is the tiny harbour of Mousehole, pronounced ‘Mowzel’, which lies on the coast of Cornwall; and those flat shapes included on the right-hand side of the painting form elements of a still life. This part of the picture is very similar to 1945 (still life) (1945) [1], a sombre grouping of cups with elegant looping handles, a bottle and perhaps some plates, which recalls the Cubist arrangement of perspectives in the style of Georges Braque or Pablo Picasso. Whilst marrying together two of Nicholson’s preferred genres of painting – still life and landscape – additionally, one can see in this painting echoes of Nicholson’s staunchly Modernist abstractions, such as the spartan, monochrome ‘White Reliefs’ of squares and circles that were begun in the 1930s.

What binds the incongruous elements in this painting together are the colours and the textures of the paint. There is, unsurprisingly, a marked contrast in the use of colour and light between Nicholson’s paintings in Cornwall, where he moved with his wife, Barbara Hepworth, at the start of World War II, and those painted in Cumberland in the north of England in the 1920s, which are dark, bright and rich. 11 November 1947 (Mousehole) typifies the palette for which Nicholson’s landscapes became best known: pale, golden and ochre hues. These were undoubtedly affected by the light qualities of the glinting Cornish sea and salt-blown countryside, and in this painting the colours of the still life appear borrowed from the landscape. Putty-coloured elements from the rocks and pavements around the harbour are seen on part of the bottle and several of the square, interlocking planes, along with the tones of chalky rocky white from the cliffs, and other browns and golden sand colours from the earth. The sea, a tone of whitish duck-egg blue, almost touching on amethyst in places, reappears right at the centre of the still life’s composition.

The textures, too, are significant, binding each of the separate elements together. There are several areas of thin paint which appear to have been roughly scrubbed away, so that the ruddy canvas shows through. Whilst an emphasis on the handmade and craft tradition may certainly have been influenced by Nicholson’s relationship with naïve painter Alfred Wallis, who lived nearby, this painting is a perfect example of what Chris Stephens has termed Nicholson’s ‘domestication’ of the English landscape. Nicholson compared his manner of working with the memory of his mother scrubbing the kitchen table, revealing his determination ‘to show that the making of art was ordinary and domestic, as essential as housework’. [2] Bringing together the objects of the home, and integrating them with the landscape, Nicholson humanises the sublime with humanely sized small boats as part of an intimate, huddled scaling that wraps itself around the viewer.

Since 1940, with 1940 (St Ives, version 2) [3], Nicholson had been creating a series of works in which still life paintings were intertwined with landscapes, generally using the device of a group of objects placed near a window. In Mousehole, one might not, at first glance, recognise the overlapping foreground shapes as still life objects – it simply looks as though elements of the landscape have come forth and arranged themselves into a new vortex of physical forms, or abstract impressions. This notion might be illuminated by Nicholson’s comment some years later: ‘All the “still lifes” are in fact land-sea-sky scapes to me.’ [4]

© Laura McLean-Ferris 2009

1 Tate Collection, London.

2 Chris Stephens, introduction to A Continuous Line: Ben Nicholson in England, exh. cat. (London: Tate, 2008), 12.

3 The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

4 Letter from Nicholson to Patrick Heron (9 February 1954), quoted in Jeremy Lewison, Ben Nicholson, exh. cat. (London: Tate Gallery, 1993), 86.


  • Title: 11 November 1947 (Mousehole)
  • Creator: Ben Nicholson
  • Creator Lifespan: 1894/1982
  • Creator Nationality: British
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Birth Place: Denham, UK
  • Date Created: .
  • Physical Dimensions: w585 x h465 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: © Angela Verren Taunt 2011. All rights reserved, DACS., © Angela Verren Taunt 2011. All rights reserved, DACS.
  • External Link: http://collection.britishcouncil.org/collection/search/9/0/object/45107/0
  • Medium: Oil on canvas mounted on wood
  • Passport: 1949 England, London, New Burlington Galleries 1950 England, London University 1951 USA, Washington, Duncan Phillips Art Gallery 1953 Sweden, Göteborg Konsthall Sweden, Stockholm, Bildande Konst 1954 Netherlands, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum 1955 France, Paris, Museé National d'art moderne Belgium, Brussels, Palais Des Beaux-Arts De Bruxelles Switzerland, Zurich, Kunsthaus England, London, Tate Gallery 1956 Rhodesia, Rhodes Centenary Museum of Art 1958 Iraq, Baghdad 1959 Tunisia, Tunis, Maison Associations Culturelles 1960 Scotland, Edinburgh, Museum of Modern Art 1961 Switzerland, Berne, Kunsthallev 1962 England, London, British Council 1963 Hungary, Budapest, Ernst Museum 1964 Czechoslovakia, Prague, Uluv Exhibition Hall Czechoslovakia, Bratislava, Mirbach Palace & Palffy Palace Romania, Bucharest, National Gallery Romania, Iaşi, Palace of Culture 1969 England, London, Tate Gallery 1972 Norway, Oslo, Kunstnerforbundet Norway, Trondhjiem, Kunstforeningen Norway, Bergen, Kunstforeningen Poland, Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe Poland, Poznań, Muzeum Narodowe Poland, Kraków, Museum Narodowe England, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery England, Southampton City Art Gallery England, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery England, Southampton Art Gallery 1973 England, Carlisle, Public Library, Museum And Art Gallery England, Durham, D.L.I. Museum & Art Centre England, Manchester City Art Gallery England, Bradford City Art Gallery Scotland, Aberdeen City Art Gallery And Museum 1977 France, Les Sables-D'olonne, Musée de l'abbaye Sainte-Croix France, Montbéliard, Musée du Château France, Rouen, Musée des Beaux-arts France, Calais, Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle France, Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux-Arts 1978 France, Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts France, Chartres, Musée des Beaux-Arts USA, Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery USA, Washington, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden 1979 USA, Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Museum 1980 Wales, Swansea, Glyn Vivian Gallery 1985 England, London, Tate Gallery 1987 Spain, Madrid, Fundación Juan March Portugal, Lisbon, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian Uk, Penzance, Newlyn Art Gallery London, Royal College of Art France, St Etienne, Museé d'art Moderne 1989 Japan, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Artv Japan, Kamakura, Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum 1990 USSR, Kiev, Ukrainian Museum of Fine Art 1991 Luxembourg, Musée National d'Histoire et d'Artv Bulgaria, Sofia, Cyril Methodius Foundation Argentina, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes 1991 Belgium, Brussels, Breydel Building, EEC Commission 1993 England, London Tate Gallery 1994 England, London, British Council France, Saint-Etienne, Musée d’Art Moderne 1998 France, Colmar, Musée d’Unterlinden 2002 Spain, Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio González Germany, Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum 2003 France, Toulouse. Les Abattoirs England, Penzance, Penlee House Gallery and Museum England, Lincoln, Usher Art Gallery England, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery 2004 Japan, Hayama, The Museum Of Modern Art Japan, Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Musueum Of Art Japan, Tokyo, Toyko Station Gallery 2005 Oman, Muscat, British Council 2007 Belgium, Ghent, Museum Voor Schone Kunsten 2008 Syria, Damascus, University Of Damascus England, Kendal, Abbot Hall Art Gallery Bexhill-On-Sea, De La Warr Pavilion 2009 England, Tate St Ives
  • Acquisition: British Council Collection

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