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Sir William Nicholson

  • Sir William Nicholson - Tenterden
    Sir William Nicholson Tenterden Signed with initial & dated 1908; inscribed on the
    Oil on canvas laid down on board
    13 x 16 in
    33 x 40.6 cm
    Full details

    SP 5432



     Newark-on-Trent 1872 - 1949 Blewbury, Berkshire




    Signed with initial & dated lower left: 1908/ N;

    inscribed with the title Tenterden on a label attached to the reverse

    Oil on canvas laid down on board: 13 x 16 in / 33 x 40.6 cm

    Frame size: 16 ½ x 19 ½ in / 41.9 x 49.5 cm



    Major Arthur Clive Nicholson (1878-1961), acquired (or gifted) from the artist before 1933,

    then by descent

    Private collection, USA



    Possibly London, Chenil Gallery, circa 1908

    Nottingham, Museum and Art Gallery, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, 11th March – 20th April 1933, cat. no. 3



    Lillian Browse, William Nicholson, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1956, cat. no. 52, p. 44

    Patricia Reed, William Nicholson, Catalogue Raisonne of the Oil Paintings, Modern Art Press, London, 2011, cat. no. 133, illustrated p. 139



    Tenterden is an early landscape by William Nicholson depicting the River Rother, near Tenterden in Kent, exceptional for its inclusion of the artist’s three eldest children; Nancy, wearing a sun hat in the canoe, Tony, fishing with his back towards the viewer on the right and Ben in the centre holding, as Patricia Reed describes it: ‘an implausibly long fishing-pole, recalling those used in Dieppe that appear in a photograph of Ben on holiday there in 1903.’[1] Reed refers to another family photograph of a similar view which suggests that the artist asked his children to pose for the painting ‘to enable WN to concentrate on the sky, which occupies three-quarters of the canvas.’[2] The landscape was painted during the early summer 1908, while the Nicholsons were staying with the actress Ellen Terry at Small Hythe, before spending their summer holiday in Dieppe. Nicholson also painted the cloud study Meadows at Tenterden (The Marches, Small Hythe) (private collection) at this time.[3] The Nicholson’s visited Terry’s house in Tenterden the previous year as well, where William painted Nancy, the girl with the pewter mug, 1907 (private collection), depicting his daughter holding a mug lent by Terry.[4] Nicholson came to know the celebrated actress through his brother-in-law and fellow Beggarstaff brother, James Pryde, who introduced Terry’s son, Edward Gordon Craig, also an actor in the theatre.[5]


    Prior to his establishment as a portrait painter, the family lived at Mecklenburgh Square with Nicholson sharing a studio with William Orpen at 8 Bolton Gardens at this time. Orpen was commissioned in 1907 to paint a family portrait of the Nicholsons which he completed the following year and exhibited as A Bloomsbury Family (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh) at the New English Art Club’s spring exhibition.


    Sir William Orpen, A Bloomsbury Family

    Oil on canvas: 86.5 x 91.5 cm

    Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art



    Major Arthur Clive Nicholson, believed to be the original owner of this painting, took over the management of the Nicholson Trent Ironworks in 1937 on the death of his father, Col. Edward Nicholson, the artist’s half-brother.



    A painter of still-lifes, landscapes and portraits, a skilled engraver and a theatre designer, Sir William Nicholson still managed to devote a considerable amount of time to his image as a ‘dandy’, and spend most of his working life attired in white duck trousers and patent shoes! He first trained at the Bushey School under Hubert von Herkomer from 1888-9 and then travelled to Paris where he studied at the Académie Julian from 1889-90. It was here heat he met James Pryde whose sister Mabel he married in 1893. Under the name of ‘J and W Beggerstaff’ he and Pryde designed posters between 1893 and 99; he also produced woodcuts published by Heinemanns between 1896 and 1900. From 1898 he exhibited at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers and was influenced by James McNeill Whistler who was President of this organisation.   In 1904 he was a founder member of the Society of Twelve, and held is first one-man show at the Paterson Gallery in 1906. He was also responsible for several theatre designs including the original sets for Peter Pan in 1904.


    Although perhaps not temperamentally suited to a professional career as a portraitist, Nicholson painted portraits throughout his life and despite his detachment form artistic public life, was knighted in 1936.  His finest portraits depict sitters with whom he was in sympathy, excelling in his portrayal of close friends. Amongst his masterpieces are Max Beerbohm (National Portrait Gallery) and Walter Greaves.


    [1] Patricia Reed, 2011, op.cit., p. 139. See Andrew Nicholson (ed.), William Nicholson Painter: paintings, woodcuts, writings, photographs, Giles de la Mare, London, 1996, p.84 for the photograph.

    [2] Patricia Reed, ibid. p. 139. In this context, Lillian Browse, writes: ‘Ben Nicholson recalls that his father was always making the children pose, and how they hated having to stay indoors and keep still instead of being in the garden or playing in the  nursery’. Op. cit., p. 19.

    [3] Patricia Reed, no. 134, p. 140.

    [4] Andrew Nicholson, ibid, p. 94. Patricia Reed, op. cit., no. 109, p. 124, states that a note attached to the painting reveals the ownership of  the jug.

    [5] ‘As a young man, he had been friendly with Edward Gordon Craig, the son of the actress Ellen Terry.’ Andrew Nicholson, op. cit., p. 10. Henry ‘Irving and Ellen Terry were good friends of the Prydes and depended on them for social entertainment when they came to Edinburgh.’ Ibid., p. 55.

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