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Sotheby's announces the largest Ben Nicholson painting ever to be offered at auction
Ben Nicholson, o.m. (1894-1982), OCT 61 (MYCENAE - AXE-BLUE). Oil on carved hardboard, 202 by 450cm. Est. £ 1,000,000-£1,500,000. Photo: Sotheby's.
LONDON.- This season’s Evening Sale of Modern & Post-War British Art on 11th July 2013 will be led by Ben Nicholson’s critically-acclaimed Oct 61 (Mycenae-axe-blue). A highlight of the Tate’s celebrated 1964 exhibition Painting & Sculpture of a Decade, 54-64, this magisterial abstract work is on the scale of his Festival of Britain commission and akin to his celebrated work that forms part of Tate Britain’s recent rehang.* Truly monumental in scale - measuring four and a half metres across – it is a seminal piece from the years Nicholson spent in Switzerland, a period described as the ‘Indian Summer’ of the artist’s career. Estimated at £1 -£1.5 million, it will be offered for sale for the first time since it was purchased in New York in 1966 by the American industrialist and social activist Joseph Irwin Miller. A philanthropist and patron, Miller gifted the work later that year to the Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis. Today, it will be sold to benefit CTS’s programmes relating to religion and the arts, which form part of the seminary’s distinctive and enduring mission.

Alongside Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson was at the very forefront of the avantgarde in Britain. Invited to join the Paris-based association Abstraction-Création in the 1930s, he developed friendships with the leading lights of European Modernism, including Picasso, Braque, Calder and Moholy-Nagy, exhibiting his works alongside these artists in New York, Amsterdam and Paris. By the outbreak of WWII, Nicholson’s standing was such that it was at his invitation that Mondrian moved to Hampstead – a centre for the vibrant community of European intellectuals in London. His reputation spread across the Atlantic, with many of the most important private and institutional collections in America jostling to acquire his work.

Nicholson had already achieved huge acclaim around the world by the time he painted Oct 61 (Mycenaeaxe-blue) in the seventh decade of his life. He had recently left St.Ives, the small Cornish coastal town that had been his home for twenty years, to embark on a new life in the mountains of Switzerland - a move that had a profound effect on his art. Removed from the internal politics and rivalries within the British art world and exposed to a landscape he had known in his youth, his works adopted a new expansiveness and magisterial style. As demonstrated in Oct 61 (Mycenae-axe-blue), his forms became more monumental and his palette became simpler, he began to use a new range of rich, natural colours– a remarkable new departure for an artist already into his seventh decade.

Joseph Irwin Miller (1909-2004) & Christian Theological Seminary
The American industrialist, social activist and philanthropist Joseph Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia S. Miller were collectors of renown, who assembled a collection of major works of the 20th century, including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet, amassing one of the finest private art collections in America. Remembered for his profound social conscience informed by a deep-rooted Christian faith, Joseph Irwin Miller was a long-time trustee of Christian Theological Seminary, a flagship theological school in Indianapolis, Indiana. Both Mr and Mrs Miller had a vision that the arts play a crucial and formative role in theological education, and proceeds from this sale will be used by the seminary to support and advance that vision. It was with his typical generosity and benevolence that Miller presented Oct 61 (Mycenae-axe blue) as a gift to Christian Theological Seminary in 1966.

Having developed his family business, the Cummins Engine Co., into a Fortune 500 company, Joseph Irwin Miller became a leading American public figure, advising the likes of President John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela. He rallied against a range of social and political issues, and was instrumental in petitioning the government for the introduction of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. In particular, his name will forever be remembered for reviving the economic, cultural and architectural fortunes of his hometown of Columbus, Indiana, transforming the city into a veritable museum of modern architecture.

He was held in such high esteem that in 1967 he was featured on the cover of Esquire magazine underneath the title: “This man ought to be the next President of the United States”.



* Ben Nicholson, Feb 1960 (ice-off-blue) (1960, Tate, London)
**An auction record for Ben Nicholson was established in September 2012 for Violon et guitare (1933) which sold for €3,313,000 / $4,264,933 (Christie’s Paris, 27 September 2012, Lot 87).



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July 2, 2013

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