Nigel Henderson

1917–1985

Nigel Henderson was one of the founding members of the Independent Group. He was a documentary and experimental photographer and artist. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother, Wyn Henderson, was an important creative inspiration for her son. She managed Nancy Cunard’s Hours Press in Paris, but after quarrelling with Cunard, Wyn Henderson returned to London to live in the heart of Bloomsbury in Gordon Square where Nigel lived with her, rather than his father’s more conventional family. From 1938 Wyn managed Guggenheim Jeune for Peggy Guggenheim, the great collector of modern art. It was through these links that the young Nigel Henderson met leading figures of the avant-garde such as Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. Nigel Henderson exhibited two collages at the Guggenheim Jeune in 1938 aongside Ernst, Braque, Picasso, Schwitters and Gris.

Henderson then joined the war effort as a pilot in Coastal Command and married Judith Stephen in 1943. She was an anthropologist, who introduced Henderson to the life on the working class street as part of a project run by the sociologist, J L Petersen in Bethnal Green, London from 1948-52. It was during this period that Henderson took his drily observed, documentary photographs of life on the street, in the manner of Henri Cartier-Bresson. At this time, Henderson also continued to experiment with collage and with the physicality of photography.

Whilst a student at the Slade, Henderson met with future Independent Group members, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. It was through Henderson’s contacts that Paolozzi came to hold his first, solo show at the Mayor Gallery in 1947 and Henderson visited Paolozzi frequently when he was living in Paris from 1947-9. At the Slade Henderson also met Richard Hamilton, and introduced him to Duchamp’s Green Box, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s Growth and Form and the ICA. Henderson was present at Independent Group meetings from the beginning, and also was a key collaborator in the Parallel of Life and Art exhibition at the ICA in 1953. He also contributed a collage to the 1954 Collages and Objects show, organised by Alloway at the ICA and to the ‘Patio and Pavillion’ section of This is Tomorrow in 1956.

The Hendersons moved to Landmere Quay in Essex in 1954, to his wife’s family home. They were joined there by the Paolozzis, who lived in neighbouring cottages. Henderson and Paolozzi set up Hammer Prints Ltd in 1955. Collaboration with Independent Group members continued, with Colin St John Wilson inviting him to mount a solo exhibition at the School of Architecture, Cambridge in 1960. Wilson also donated a collaged screen, begun by Henderson in 1949, to the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester in 2004.

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