Ben Nicholson: Writings and Ideas

Two Fishes, Ben Nicholson, 1932, from Ben Nicholson: Writings and Ideas


To celebrate the publication of Lee Beard's new book Ben Nicholson: Writings and Ideas, we've decided to share an extract. Writing to Winifred Nicholson, the artist details the joy he felt flying in a plane for the first from France to London.


I cannot tell you what a lovely happy – miraculous day yesterday was.

You were a dear to give me such a nice send off, & you & Jakie looked

so sweet standing at the quai d’Auteuil door – & you made me up such

good sandwiches which I enjoyed – & felt you gave me a constructive


I drove to Le Bourget – & as we approached it became more & more

lovely – such sunlight & clear frosty day – & huge blue boards standing

up alone, & houses such pretty French shapes & colours & an immense

gaiety all like a Calder – & the aerodrome a large free open expanse &

aeroplane shining on it. I couldn’t believe that it was really meant

seriously that I should get into the aeroplane & that it would get up into

the sky itself & make for London – But it did! I saw some nice French

fields all laid out in small squares & then went above some white clouds

which stretched on one plane to the horizon – & the sun shining high up

& blue sky indefinitely. I felt as if the whole thing (aeroplane) was sustained

by thought – & very powerfully sustained – it flew quite evenly an

exact distance above the white clouds for 2 hours – with what seemed like

a tremendous noise – which became less & less until I hardly noticed it –

but one felt its purpose – no sight of France, sea, England!

As the time of arriving drew near I expected to go down at a slight

incline through the clouds gradually arriving at the aerodrome & then

descend – but not a bit – suddenly the engines almost stopped & we went

down at a steep angle into the white bank of cloud – for a few minutes

one saw nothing – not even a few feet ahead – & descending very steeply

& banking at what seemed a very steep angle we descended in a half turn

in almost a second on to Croydon in a grey winter’s evening & London

suburbs – a shoddy looking Tilling Charabanc took us to Vict. Station

where I transferred to an old taxi lumbering along the earth – & then

came to The Mall – & inside I was given such a dear quiet lovely true

welcome – & there again it was all like Le Bourget & Calder. So simple,

so spacious, & so light – & all the old work put away & new shining

scarlet & white balls on wooden sticks revolving – across strands of deep

blue & scarlet & white – & scarlet circles – & wooden balls all shapes

& sizes & some beautiful big white & grey balls on the end of wooden

sticks, I just walk round holding them – & wood being carved to make

their game – & shiny wire tangled & a crystal ball & a scarlet ball

hanging on a pale ground – & many others – all like the aeroplane above

the clouds in a blue shining sunny sky.

The photographs standing on the mantelpiece & pinned up have a

real depth & severe beauty – all in circles of light – & triangles & simple

shapes. They are actually made & constructed by light passing – not by

objects – & they are real. A big advance on Moholy-Nagy [. . .]

That flying is miraculous. I have not come down to earth yet & I don’t

intend to. It was the happiest day I have ever experienced. How exciting

to work out these new ideas [. . .] Bless you my dear & thank you many

times for your help with those circle ideas – a real & lovely help.


     Letter to WN, 7 The Mall, Parkhill Rd. Hampstead, / NW3 / Dec 30 [1933]


Taken from Ben Nicholson: Writings and Ideas, pp.65-68


For information on where to purchase your copy of Ben Nicholson: Writings and Ideas, click here. (For North American customers, you can preorder here)