Ben Nicholson began his career painting representational still lifes and then moved to abstraction. His abstract work has a relationship to Piet Mondrian's compositions. Herbert Read noted this connection, but saw Nicholson as a quintessentially English artist, pointing to similarities between Nicholson's work and medieval illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows.

Nicholson embraced the universal quality of abstract art. It does not require the viewer to have any prior knowledge of the subject matter to understand the work. Instead of figures and objects suggesting a time or place, the compositional elements convey a feeling to the viewer. He wrote:

One of the main differences between a representational and an abstract painting is that the former can transport you to Greece by a representation of blue skies and seas, olive trees and marble columns but in order that you can take part in this you will have to concentrate on the painting, whereas the abstract version by its free use of form and color will be able to give you the actual quality of Greece itself, and this will become part of the light and space and life in the room - there is no need to concentrate, it becomes part of living.*

In his view, abstraction makes art accessible to all viewers, rather than alienating them or requiring specialized information from them.

*Ben Nicholson, "Notes on 'Abstract' Art," in Ben Nicholson: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat. (London: Tate Gallery, 1955), np. Reprinted from Nicholson's essay "Horizon" from October 1941. Emphasis in the original.

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