36 x 28 in
At Sotheby’s, London, 17 March 1965, lot 13
George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood
At Christie's, London, 11 July 2013, lot 211
London, Grafton Galleries, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, 3rd Exhibition of Fair Women, May – July 1910, cat. no. 16
Bradford, City Art Gallery, The eighteenth Spring Exhibition of works contributed by the artists, March – May 1911, cat. no. 44
Toronto, Department of Fine Arts, Canadian National Exhibition, 23 Aug. – 8 Sept. 1913, cat. no. 40
Art News, 2 June 1910.
The World, 4 June 1910.
Bazaar, 10 June 1910.
Westminster Gazette, 20 June 1910.
Lillian Browse, William Nicholson, 1956, Rupert Hart-Davies, p. 129, cat. no. 641
Patricia Reed, William Nicholson: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, 2011, Modern Art Press, p. 177, cat. no. 184 (col. illus.)
In 'The Grey Shawl', the model is wearing a fine grey woollen shawl, either knitted or crocheted and of great delicacy. Such shawls were made in Ireland and the northern isles of Scotland and were much sought after at this date (1910). With her dark hair hanging loose and her downcast eyes Nicholson appear to imply this young girl must have a narrative, prompting the viewer to seek some clue in the landscape sketched out below. However, the artist shows greater interest in depicting the texture of the delicate shawl beneath which the girl's glossy dark hair and the material of her dress are partially visible. His palette is limited, with greys and blues predominating.
The Grey Shawl received considerable attention when it was first exhibited at the International Society Exhibition of Fair Women in May 1910, where it was shown together with The Blue Shawl. The latter depicts a young woman in profile, seen from the back, and wearing a rich blue woollen shawl partially draped over her bare shoulders. These works were often discussed together, as in the Westminster Gazette (20 June 1910) where one reporter declared, '... each is a demonstration of a fine artistic personality, highly skilled, and absolutely unfettered by convention or alien influence.' The unidentified reviewer in The World (4 June 1910) wrote, 'Mr William Nicholson's two half-length's - 'The Grey Shawl' (16) and 'The Blue Shawl' (9) - are admirably placed on their canvas. In both we find the same intense interest in character which has marked Mr Nicholson's work from the beginning, that shrewd and humorous observation expressed in terms of deliberate weight and subtle harmony which makes Mr Nicholson's work not only delightful to the eye but fascinating to the intelligence.'
These reviews indicate what set Nicholson apart at the beginning of the twentieth century: he was able to entertain his Edwardian audience with beautifully painted portraits and genre scenes without compromising psychological nuance and a curious detachment from narrative. These characteristics were the tools he used to push the art of his period forward and establish himself as a master of a new English style highly influential to his contemporaries and antecedents, most notably, Augustus John, William Orpen and Laura Knight.