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1928 (Banks Head – Cumbrian Landscape),

This painting is one of the most remarkable examples of Ben Nicholson’s exploration of a consciously ‘naïve’ style. In the early years of his career Nicholson sought to move beyond the example of his father William, a glossy Edwardian still life and portrait painter. He wrote of wanting to “bust up all the sophistication around me” and sought inspiration in the work of artists as diverse as Cézanne, the Cubists and 15th century Italian painters.

One of the key moments in Nicholson’s artistic development was the encounter, during the summer of 1928, with Alfred Wallis, a 73-year-old Cornish fisherman who a few years earlier had taken up painting as a hobby. Nicholson found in Wallis’s art an example of the freedom of technique and vision and a disregard of the rigid rules of academic painting that he himself was longing for.

Wallis remained a source of inspiration for Nicholson for some time after their encounter. However, the speed of work, rough surface texture, distortion of perspective and scale, sketchy details and limited range of colours which characterise Wallis’s art appear in Nicholson’s paintings that predate the summer of 1928, as demonstrated by this landscape. Such characters, in fact, accorded not only with Ben’s practice but also with that of his wife Winifred and of Christopher Wood, two of his regular painting companions at that time. Examples at Kettle’s Yard are Winifred’s Roman Road (Landscape with Two Houses) (1926) and Wood’s Landscape at Vence (1927).

Banks Head – Cumbrian Landscape was painted in the spring of 1928. It shows a site close to Ben and Winifred’s farm at Banks Head, which they had bought four years earlier. The exact location, however, has not been positively identified. Their son Jake later recalled that “in the early days at Banks Head, Ben and Winifred would carry their paints, canvases and drawing materials to a chosen painting site. As these were heavy, the distances were limited, so it was mostly the nearby farms which they painted.”

Jim Ede received the painting as a gift from Nicholson in 1930. His wife Helen was enchanted by it. This accounts for its positioning in her sitting room.

Provenence: gift of the artist to H.S. Ede, 1930

Painting [BN 14]


Oil on canvas

453 x 556 mm

About the artist

Ben Nicholson was the son of the painter William Nicholson. After marrying Winifred Roberts, during the 1920s he travelled widely and lived with her between Cumberland, London, Paris and Switzerland. Following a period experimenting with a post-Cézanne manner, Nicholson developed a consciously 'primitive' landscape style in 1927, further encouraged by his encounter with the art of Alfred Wallis. Between 1931 and 1939 he lived in London in close proximity to many artists and critics such as Moore, Piper, Martin, Ede and Herbert Read. He met Arp, Brancusi, and later Mondrian, Gabo and Jean Hélion. The influence of these artists led him to develop a highly abstract style of the late 1930s, for which he is most famous. In 1931 he met Barbara Hepworth, who would become his second wife. He returned to St. Ives during the war with Hepworth, Gabo and Stokes and established an international reputation in the 1950s and 60s. After the war he lived at various times in London, Cambridge and Switzerland and married a third time to Felicitas Vogler.