Felicitas Vogler

Photographer wife of Ben Nicholson


Felicitas Maria Vogler, photographer: born Berlin 25 April 1922; married 1957 Ben Nicholson (died 1982; marriage dissolved 1977); died Vevey, Switzerland 22 September 2006.

Felicitas Vogler was an outstanding landscape photographer who held exhibitions throughout Europe, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. Her first important show was organised by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1973; her last was a major retrospective, "World of Light", held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh earlier this year. However, she was probably best known as the third wife of the British artist Ben Nicholson, a fact that frustrated her somewhat.

Small, upright, bright-eyed and perfectly coiffed, Vogler was a formidable woman. She had particular likes (nature, Beethoven, cats, Bendicks mints) and dislikes (contemporary art, urbanisation, noise, art historians) and she expressed her feelings with candour and vigour. She could talk for hours at a time but preferred one-on-one conversations: her friends were kept in such separate compartments that most had never met.

Her strong personality hid a warm, generous and witty character. She made friends easily and helped numerous charities, particularly those involved with music. She had a phenomenal knowledge of literature, philosophy, psychology, music and art, and could provide the Latin name of any plant or tree.

In her youth she had become interested in astrology, palm-reading, spiritualism and mysticism and throughout her life she worked semi-professionally as an astrologist. New friends would invariably be asked their exact time and date of birth. Paradoxically, she refused to divulge her own year of birth, claiming that even her doctor did not know it.

An only child, Felicitas Vogler was born in Berlin in 1922. Her father was a banker and an amateur photographer, while her grandfather was an amateur painter. Felicitas studied psychology at Munich University, completing her doctorate in 1950. She then worked as an arts correspondent for a Munich newspaper and as a researcher for an arts programme on Bavarian Radio.

Her interest in Indian philosophy took her to London in May 1957, where she planned a long trip to India. Profiting from her time in England, she travelled to Cornwall to research a radio programme on the English landscape. A friend suggested she visit the artists' colony at St Ives. Following meetings with Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton and others, she met the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who had separated from Ben Nicholson six years earlier.

Hepworth arranged for her to meet Nicholson; before her trip to St Ives, Felicitas Vogler had never heard of him. Their half-hour meeting turned into a five-hour conversation. Nicholson insisted on driving her around Cornwall the next day and followed her when she left for Wales. They were married in London at Hampstead registry office on 13 July, less than two months after first meeting. Vogler never tired of retelling this story, recalling every detail with girlish enthusiasm. It remained the defining point in her life.

Vogler became a British citizen, but was unsettled by the bad weather and claustrophobic social life in St Ives, so in 1958 she and Nicholson moved to Switzerland. They had a house built near the village of Brissago, in the mountains above Locarno: peaceful and secluded, it enjoyed breathtaking views of Lake Maggiore. With Nicholson's encouragement, Vogler took up photography seriously, producing stunning images of the Greek islands, Ticino landscape and Venice. Her photographs were first published in exhibition catalogues of Nicholson's work produced in 1959 and 1960. A major book on her work, The Quiet Eye, was published by Thames & Hudson in 1969. The Victoria & Albert Museum acquired her work.

Like many famous artists' wives, Vogler became the doorkeeper, turning away unwelcome visitors. By 1971 the marriage had lost its joie de vivre. Nicholson was homesick and decided to return to England; Vogler wanted to stay in Switzerland. They divorced in 1977 but remained on good terms, seeing each other regularly until his death in 1982. She also remained in close contact with Nicholson's children and grandchildren.

Nicholson's departure led to a new phase in Vogler's work. Hitherto she had photographed European towns and landscapes, but from the early 1970s she travelled much further afield, to Namibia, Kashmir, New Zealand, Japan, Russia and elsewhere. She concentrated her attention on unspoilt, unpopulated landscapes, printing them in pale, natural colours. Often they show nothing more than the sea, sky or trees. Her compositions invariably bear a strong sense of geometry which bears comparison with Nicholson's work. She had little interest in the technical aspects of photography: her favourite camera was one she found on a bench.

In 1987 she moved to the village of St Légier, near Vevey on Lake Geneva. Her desire for privacy, her dislike of commerce and the long shadow cast by Ben Nicholson, meant that she could never properly promote her own work. She continued working and travelling right up until her sudden death, visiting Scotland twice (including a trip to Orkney) and Tunisia within the space of two months.

There were no children from her marriage to Nicholson and Vogler was forthright in asserting that she did not want any.

Patrick Elliott

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?