Sir William Nicholson 1872-1949


William Nicholson, the father of Ben Nicholson, was born in Newark-on-Trent. After an unsuccessful tutelage with Hubert Herkomer, he studied in Paris before returning to England and marrying the painter Mabel Pryde. With Mabel's brother, the painter James Pryde, he started up a successful poster business, under the title J & W Beggarstaff, designing work for the nascent advertising industry.

Nicholson was one of the most singular artists of his generation, distinctive and highly original in the manner in which he approached painting albeit conservative in his subject matter - his work encompassed still life, landscape and portraiture.

Common to all his work is supreme sense of visual élan, of style and stylishness and which is mostly concerned with the abstract sensations evoked by surface, texture and form. In this he appears wholly modern in his sensibility, more linked - in his liking of curves and ellipses, the round forms of jugs and jars, his devotion to the potential of surface expression - to the work of his son Ben Nicholson, than either might have felt comfortable recognising.

Nicholson’s daughter drew a perceptive and compelling comparison between her father’s great enjoyment of physical prowess or performance and the act of creating paintings, and his excitement at translating the excitement of his experience of the world around him into paint.

Nicholson’s painting holds greatest stylistic connection to the artists closely studied in England in the 1890s when he was learning his craft - Whistler, Manet and Corot. Yet his modernity and identity is highly personal and distinct, looking forward as well as back. Indeed, the particular timbre of Nicholson’s work was recognised by certain Modernist artists and can be clearly traced in the evolution of twentieth-century art, alongside early modernists as Cézanne, Bonnard and Morandi.



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