British abstract painter and the first winner of the Guggenheim International Prize. He was appointed to the OM in 1968.
The eldest son of the painter Sir William Nicholson (1872–1949), he received formal training in art for only one term at the Slade School in London in 1911. He was briefly connected with the vorticist movement at the beginning of World War I (see Lewis, Wyndham), but his first one-man exhibition in 1922 revealed the cubist influence that had arisen from his visit to Paris the previous year and was to provide the basis for much of his future work. The paintings of the 1920s were cubist still-lifes and landscapes as well as abstract paintings.
In 1930 he began to work with the sculptress Barbara Hepworth, who became his second wife. From 1933 he produced painted reliefs with circular and rectangular motifs. These became his main output, together with austere geometric compositions on canvas. During the 1930s he was a member of the Seven and Five group, Unit One, and the Abstraction-Création Association and was in contact with many of the major artists of the period, particularly Mondrian. From 1939 he lived in St Ives in Cornwall, where his second marriage ended in 1951. A year after his third marriage, in 1958, he moved to Ticino in Switzerland. During the 1950s he won first prizes at the Carnegie International, the Guggenheim International, and the São Paolo Biennale.