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COMMISSIONED BY AN EARL, designed by a refugee from Hitler’s Germany and buoyed by a recent £6m redevelopment from the Heritage Lottery fund, the history of the De La Warr Pavilion has been as colourful as much of the artwork displayed inside it. Now the pavilion, famed for being the UK‘s first public Modernist building, is set to host a new exhibition of rarely seen work by one of the pioneers of modern art in Britain.

‘A Continuous Line – Ben Nicholson in England’ is the first major exhibition of the artist’s work for 14 years and will be displayed in just three galleries in the UK. The exhibition’s organisers have chosen venues that have particular significance to Nicholson’s work in an attempt to show his British paintings in context of the environment in which they were produced.

The Pavilion was picked alongside the Abbot Hall gallery in Cumbria and the Tate Gallery in St Ives, as its modernist design draws on many of the artistic themes represented in Nicholson’s paintings. Celia Davies, Head of Exhibitions for De La Warr said “Ben Nicholson was one of the forefathers of the Modernist movement and the De La Warr Pavilion is seen as one of the finest examples of modern movement architecture in this country so it’s absolutely fitting that his work should be shown here.’’

The collection spans Nicholson’s career in England from 1920 and 1958, and includes pictures loaned from public institutions such as the Tate, as well as many rarely seen works from private collections. Past exhibitions have tended to concentrate on the cool, abstract paintings based on interlocking shapes and subtle colours that made Nicholson’s name in the art world.

However the exhibition’s curator, Chris Stephens, is hopeful that ‘A Continuous Line’ will present a more rounded sketch of how Nicholson developed his modernist style. He said “Ben Nicholson is best known as the leading figure of the British Modernist movement. His best known works are the abstract paintings and reliefs from the 1930’s, the most extreme of which are the reliefs of no colour that are just white. But the idea of the exhibition is to show that his work was much more diverse than that.’’

One of the aims of the exhibition is to show how Nicholson infused landscape paintings of the English countryside with new modernist ideas to create works in which the texture of the canvas became an important tool in depicting the natural world.  Stephens, who is Head of Displays at Tate Britain, hopes that this focus on his earlier paintings will shed new light on Nicholson’s work and to help illustrate how British modernism as a whole developed. He said “We want to show that modernism wasn’t just about a style of art but about a way of life and for him that was a way of life that involved returning to rural traditions. It presents a different idea of what is modern in art.’’

With no London exhibition it is hoped that the decision to bring ‘A Continuous Line’ to the De La Warr Pavilion will enable people across the South East a unique opportunity to see some of the very best examples of British modern art. Mrs Davies said “Part of the programming strategy here is to put on the highest quality shows we can. It’s very deliberate that this hasn’t gone to London because people in the regions should have easy access to high quality shows of this kind.’’

The exhibition contains more than 70 of Nicholson’s works spanning his time in England and mixes a number of his most famous modernist paintings with many earlier, rarely seen pieces to reveal a detailed picture of one of the most important figures in British art in the 20th century.

‘A Continuous Line – Ben Nicholson in England’ can be seen at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill until the 4th of January 2009.

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