British sculptor who, with Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore, led the abstract movement in Britain in the 1930s. She was made a DBE in 1965.
Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, she trained at the Leeds School of Art and at the Royal College of Art, London (1921–24). Here she was a contemporary of the sculptor Henry Moore, who came from the same mining district in Yorkshire and whose artistic development ran parallel to hers until the 1930s. She studied in Florence and Rome before returning to London in 1926.
In 1931 she met Ben Nicholson, who later became her second husband, and she joined the Seven and Five society of artists. In the same year she produced her first Pierced Form, introducing holes into British sculpture. At this time she was working increasingly towards abstraction in carved stone and wood. Using forms suggested by the natural qualities of these materials and other natural forms, she assimilated these to the human figure or to free organic forms. In touch with Braque, Brancusi, Mondrian, and Picasso, in 1933 she became a member of the Abstraction-Création association and of the British Unit One group. Her work from 1934 included nonorganic geometric abstracts. Colour was sometimes incorporated to heighten the effect of interior spaces, which became larger and more complex and expressive in the 1940s after her move from Hampstead to St Ives in Cornwall at the beginning of World War II.
Her marriage to Ben Nicholson ended in 1951. In the late 1950s she began to work in bronze, producing large works of monumental simplicity for landscape and architectural setting. She won the Grand Prix at the São Paulo Biennale in 1959. In the 1960s she worked on a broad range of sculptures in bronze and in stone, both geometric constructions and organic forms.