Winifred Nicholson

(1893 - 1981)

Winifred Nicholson was born in Oxford on the 21st December 1893, the eldest daughter of Charles Henry Roberts and Lady Cecilia. Her father was to become the Liberal MP for Lincoln 1906-1918, and her grandfather, George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle was a painter and friend of William Morris (1834-1896) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and his granddaughter was an encouragement to him. Her childhood was spent between Cumberland, Yorkshire and London.

In 1912 Winifred enrolled at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London, opened two years before by John Byam Liston Shaw (1872-1919) and Rex Vicat Cole (1870-1940), and now subsumed by Central St. Martins.

In 1919-20 Winifred travelled with her father, a member of the Commission on Self Government, to India where she was much taken by the quality of light and the flora.

On her return she met Ben Nicholson, OM (1894-1982) in Oxford and they painted together in the West Country. Following their marriage they went to Italy settling in a villa above Lake Lugarno. Both exhibited at the Paterson Gallery in London in 1923.

In 1924 the Nicholsons moved into Bankshead, a stone farmhouse on Hadrian’s Wall that they had bought. There they entertained friends including, Henry Moore (1898-1986), Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), Christopher Wood (1901-1930), Cedric Morris (1889-1982) and Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), the latter in 1925 exhibited at the Mayen Gallery, London seven of his seventeen paintings being executed at Bankshead. The Nicholsons, with Hepworth, Hitchens, Moore, Wood, Frances Hodgkins (1869-1947) and Morris all exhibited as young artists with the 7 & 5 Society until, in Winifred’s case its demise in 1935.

In London in 1926 they met Jim Ede (1895-1990) who was to become a friend and collector. Winifred’s son Jake was born in 1927 and she continued to exhibit and travel, painting in Cornwall in addition to Bankside. A daughter, Kate was born in 1929 and Andrew in 1930 at Bankside, the same year as her first solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries and the death of her friend and fellow artist Christopher Wood.

In 1931 Ben Nicholson met Barbara Hepworth and left Winifred who the following year moved to Paris with her children. Here she met and worked with the likes of Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), Jean Hélion (1904-1987), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and in a departure from her previous work painted abstracts.

In 1936 she had a further solo exhibition of her Paris paintings at the Leicester Galleries. In the following years Winifred left Paris and returned with her children to Bankside and through the 1940’s and 1950’s based herself in Cumberland painting, writing, teaching and farming, interspersed with painting trips to Scotland

In the 1960’s much of her work was of flowers and views from her windows, again interspersed with painting trips, including Greece with her daughter.

In 1964 she exhibited at the Redfern Gallery and in 1969 a retrospective was held at the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal.

In 1980 at the age of 87 she visited Eigg in the Hebrides to paint with Kate and was joined by Valerie Thornton and Michael Chase.

Winifred died the following year, 1981, at Bankhead. A retrospective was held at The Tate in 1987

Her works can be found in museums in: Aberdeen; Bangor; Birmingham; Brighton; Bristol; Cambridge, Trinity College and Kettle’s Yard; Cardiff National Museum of Wales; Carlisle; Chichester; Edinburgh National Gallery; Gateshead; Glasgow; Hastings; Kendal; Lancaster, Peter Scott Gallery; Leamington Spa; Leeds; Leicester; Liverpool; London, Arts Council, British Council, Courtauld Gallery, Government Art Collection and Tate Britain; Manchester; Merthyr Tydfil; Newark; Newcastle; Norwich, University of East Anglia; Nottingham; Oxford and Sheffield.