Nigel Henderson (1917-1985) The Whole Man

Nigel Henderson (1917-1985) The Whole Man


Nigel Henderson was a collage artist and teacher who worked in a wide range of media. He was born in London. In 1931-33 he attended Stowe School and through his mother he became connected with the Bloomsbury Group. Then he became active in the Group Theatre. While assisting Helmut Ruhemann the picture restorer, Henderson turned to surrealism and collage with the encouragement of Peggy Guggenheim. After serving as a pilot during the war, Henderson had a nervous breakdown but he recovered well enough to attend the Slade School of Fine Art between 1945-9. He then and took up photography, but as the curriculum did not include photography Henderson had to teach himself. He soon started experimenting with new photographic techniques including stressed images, a method by which he distorted and stretched the printing paper while enlarging it. He also used bomb site debris. While teaching at Central School of Arts and Crafts he produced posters for jazz musician Ronnie Scott and worked in photojournalism for Flair, Melody Maker and Architectural Review. With his friend Eduardo Paolozzi (q.v.) he founded the Independant Group and set up Hammer Prints Ltd (1955-61). He also taught at Colchester School of Art from 1965-68, then took over the Photography Department at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. There was a retrospective exhibition at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge in 1977 and a major touring exhibition run by Norwich School of Art Gallery in 1982-3.Tate Gallery owns some of his work.


While visiting Paris in the 30s with Paolozzi, Henderson met Brancusi, Leger, Giacometti and Braque which explains the surrealist elements of this work. But it was only in 1961, after his first one-man show at the ICA, that Henderson started colouring some of his photographs with paint. Much later in the 1980s he produced two series Heads in Blocks and Single Heads in which he made different versions of a self-portrait image. These images of the human head which are often seen as the culmination of his stressed photographs represent the destruction, atrophy and decay of the human face. They have been linked to the artist’s traumatic experience during WW2 and relate to a period when nuclear war was a possible threat. Paolozzi also produced distorted sculptured heads. The VBLT owns one of these dated 1983 (see catalogue), therefore the same period as this work by Henderson.


  • · D’OFFAY, Anthony,Nigel Henderson: Paintings Collages & Photographs, London, 1977
  • · ROBBINS, David (editor), The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty, The MIT Press, London, 1990
  • · WALSH, Victoria, Nigel Henderson: Parallel of Life and Art, Thames & Hudson, London 2001
  • · WALSH, Victoria Walsh, ‘Real Imagination is Technical Imagination’, Tate Britain, London 2008

Evelyne Bell