When he produced this painting, Nicholson was a member of an artistic community centred in Hampstead, London. This group included the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and, briefly, the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. It was chiefly Mondrian who inspired Nicholson’s adoption of the abstract geometric manner displayed in this work.
The year 1937 was important for Nicholson and the so-called ‘constructive’ art he championed. It saw the exhibition of Constructive Art at the London Gallery, as well as the publication of Circle: An International Survey of Constructive Art, an anthology of contemporary architecture, painting, sculpture and design edited by Nicholson, Naum Gabo and the architect Leslie Martin (who was the first owner of this painting).
In Painting 1937 a complex and shifting rhythm is created across the canvas by the arrangement of small blocks of strong colour with larger sections of softer colour. The yellow square has faded over time. It was originally a bright acidic colour and would have created a stronger tension with the black and red. The sense of depth achieved by the visual weight of the coloured planes recalls the spatial effects of Nicholson’s white reliefs which he was making at this time. Nicholson used a similar range of colours in two other important geometric paintings from 1937, which included the work reproduced here.