Nicholson/Mondrian at the Courtauld

I am not in favour of the attitude towards Ben Nicholson which treats him as one of the most important artists of 20th Century Britain. He worked in a wide variety of styles, including completely abstract. British artists have a problem getting taken seriously as pure abstract artists, as anything they did was done many years earlier on the Continent. So it is hard for them to avoid the allegation of being derivative. In Nicholson’s non-abstract work, I am wary of treating him as any sort of draughtsman, as well.

This exhibition had a mission. It wanted us to think that the titanic reputation of Mondrian as one of the greatest ever abstract artists was in some way to be compared to our little domestic champion during the few short years they were overlapping with each other, before and during the early part of the War. And it has a good go at this. The 2 rooms in the Courtauld are used to good effect and there are a number of excellent works on display by both artists, as well as some interesting archive material. But the reality remains that in a wider context and time period Mondrian is a giant in this area and Nicholson is not. Nicholson’s father was the artistic giant of the family, to my mind.