In the early thirties Ben Nicholson began carving reliefs. By 1934 these were composed of circular and rectilinear elements that he painted white. The first series was completed in 1939. When Nicholson focused again on the form in the mid-1950s, the reliefs became subtly varied in coloration and texture. The present example is particularly severe, the absence of curved or diagonal lines recalling the work of Piet Mondrian, whom Nicholson knew and admired. The muted, chalky color evokes early Italian Renaissance frescoes and shards of classical pottery.
The parenthetical menhir (Breton for “long stone”) in the title refers to the simple prehistoric stone slabs found throughout western Europe, especially in Brittany. The association is reinforced by the vertical format and the hewn monochromatic surface of the board. The balance of shape, proportion, and placement, apparently so simple, is achieved adroitly. The thickness of the central rectangle decreases gradually from top to bottom, so that the form projects where it meets the upper rectangle, while lying flush above the lower rectangle. This manipulation produces a tapering shadow that softens the strictly perpendicular alignment of the relief to produce a work of austere harmony.