Sir William Nicholson

(1872 - 1949)


Nicholson was born in Newark-on-Trent to parents William and Annie. He started his education at St. Magnus Grammar School where he was first taught drawing by William H. Cubley (1816-1896), a pupil of Sir William Beechey (1753-1859). In 1888 he met James Pryde (1866-1941) whilst the pair was studying at Hubert von Herkomer’s (1849-1914) art school in Bushey, after which Nicholson moved to the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1893 he married James Pryde’s sister Mabel (1871-1918), also an artist, with whom he had four children. Their first child Ben (1894–1982) was to become a leading light in the Modern British Art movement.

Nicholson and James Pryde collaborated on poster designs under the name J & W Beggarstaff. These striking graphical woodcuts, often only consisting of two or three colours, were extremely popular and the ‘Beggarstaff Brothers’ enjoyed their success. However, from 1900 onwards and under the encouragement of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Nicholson decided to concentrate on his painting that included landscape, still life and portraiture. He did not fall under the spell of Impressionism or its British counterpart and his work clearly owes a debt to Whistler. It was probably partly due to his slightly more conservative stylistic approach that he received many notable portrait commissions; these were vital as they allowed the artist to devote more time to the landscapes and still lifes that were his passion.

Nicholson was highly regarded by critics of the day and maintained his independence, not being associated with any of the various ‘ists’ and ‘isms’ that seemed to dominate England’s art during this period. He exhibited regularly with the International Society and the National Portrait Society, as well as holding one man shows at Paterson Gallery, Beaux Arts Gallery and the National Gallery. He was also a Trustee of the Tate Gallery and was knighted in 1936. Nicholson Died on 16th May 1949 at Blewbury, Berkshire.

His works can be found in museums in: Birmingham; Cambridge; Cardiff; Eastbourne; Edinburgh; Kirkcaldy; Liverpool; London, HM The Queen, National Portrait Gallery, Tate London and Victoria and Albert Museum; Oxford; Southampton; Cleveland; Canberra; Christchurch; Sydney and Victoria.