Iain Gale on exhibitions

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The Independent Culture
The great Cyril Connolly summed it all up: "There is no more sombre enemy of good art," he wrote pithily, "than the pram in the hall."

He might have been thinking of Ben Nicholson, who in 1931 left his young family and shacked up with the gamine Barbara Hepworth - almost a decade his junior, and for the next three years at least without the apparently destructive encumbrance of children. Their partnership is now legendary. The same however, cannot be said for that of Nicholson and his first wife, Winifred Roberts - herself a talented artist. An exhibition at London's Crane Kalman might put the record straight.

Nicholson may have divorced Winifred in 1933 but, artistically at least, they never entirely separated. In a 40-year correspondence they continued to inspire one another in a way which goes against the grain of received art historical wisdom. Winifred painted landscapes and still lifes - amusing and perceptive studies which echo Matisse at his least serious. Ben, as we know, was made of stronger stuff, his paintings and reliefs being the two-dimensional equivalent of Hepworth's sculptural monumentality.

There is, nevertheless, always something refreshingly unself-conscious in Ben Nicholson's art that distinguishes it from that of Hepworth. And it is tempting to wonder whether this is not down to Winifred. "I shall regret," he wrote to her in 1933, when about to show his first, stark reliefs in Paris, "that you won't see my show. The new developments are my first real expression, and so much of it is due to you."

Crane Kalman, 178 Brompton Road, London SW3 to 4 May

Left: detail from 'Lily', 1934 by Winifred Nicholson

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