Winifred Nicholson

Provenance

C.S. Reddihough
Private Collection, UK, 2016

Exhibitions

1927, London, Beaux Arts Gallery, The Seven and Five Society, 4 - 22 Jan. 1927, cat. no. 29
1927, London, Walker's Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Members of The Campden Hill Club, 14 – 19 Feb. 1927, cat. no. 72
1979, Edinburgh, Scottish Arts Council Gallery; Carlisle, Carlisle Art Gallery; Glasgow, Third Eye Centre; Newcastle, Hatton Gallery; Colchester, The Minories; and Penwith, St Ives Galleries, Winifred Nicholson, Paintings 1900-1978, 22 Sept. - 28 Oct. 1979; 3 - 24 Nov. 1979; 8 - 22 Dec. 1979; 6 Jan. - 6 Feb. 1980; 14 Feb. - 21 March 1980; 31 March - 26 April 1980, cat. no. 14
1987, London, Tate Gallery; Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery; Bristol, Bristol City Art Gallery; Stoke, Stoke City Art Gallery; Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Art Gallery; and Cambridge, Kettle's Yard, Winifred Nicholson, 3 June - 2 Aug. 1987; 15. Aug. - 20 Sept. 1987; 26 Sept. - 1 Nov. 1987; 7 Nov. - 13 Dec. 1987; 9 Jan. - 31 Jan. 1988; and 13 Feb. - 20 March 1988, cat. no. 7
2013, Leeds, Leeds Museums and Galleries; Cambridge, Kettle's Yard; and London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, William Staite Murray, Art and Life 1920-1931, 18 Oct. 2013 -12 Jan. 2014; 15 Feb. - 11 May 2014; and 4 June - 21 Sept. 2014, unnumbered

Literature

Artwork, Vol. III, March-May 1927, p. 10 (illus.)
Frank Rutter, 'The Seven and Five Society', The Sunday Times, 23 Jan. 1927
Christopher Andreae, Winifred Nicholson, 2009, Lund Humphries, p. 99, pl. 85 (col. illus.)
Jovan Nicholson with Sebastiano Barassi and Julian Stair , Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, William Staite Murray, Art and Life 1920-1931, 2013, Philip Wilson Publishers, pp. 76-77 (col. illus.)
The Warwick Family was painted by Winifred Nicholson while she was living at Bankshead, a Cumbrian farmhouse near the Scottish border. It depicts Tom and Margaret Warwick, the neighbouring farmers, with their daughter Janet, seated on the left, and their grandson Norman, seated on Mrs Warwick’s knee. Winifred made several portraits, most of which depict her children, family and close friends. Some of these works are in public collections, including the National Gallery of Scotland, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Pallant House Gallery, and Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. This work is among the largest paintings that Nicholson made in this period and is almost certainly the largest portrait that she executed in her career.

The intimacy of this portrait is initially suggested by the open expressions of the sitters and the homely domestic setting. A large and ancient black range can be seen at the back of the room, depicted in the space between Mr and Mrs Warwick. More than simply neighbours, the Warwick family had a close personal connection with the Nicholsons and, within a year of this painting’s completion, Janet became the nanny of Winifred and Ben Nicholson’s first son, Jacob. She was depicted again by Nicholson in a portrait of Janet and Jacob (1929, UCL Art Museum) (fig. 1). From this later work, a strong emotional connection with both the artist and her son is strongly in evidence. Janet later travelled with the family to Cornwall when they left Cumberland in 1931, remaining in their employment until 1932.

In the 1920s, Winifred Nicholson belonged to a significant artistic milieu of British modernists. The informal network included her husband Ben, the painters Ivon Hitchens, Alfred Wallis and Christopher Wood, and the potter William Staite Murray. Among these artists, it was Winifred’s unique achievement to marry the original modernist aesthetic of the milieu, defined by its rough finish and original use of tactile qualities, with a personal touch of colouristic delicacy and emotional warmth. These qualities are exemplified in The Warwick Family. The canvas has a rough texture, an absorbent support which contributed to the distinctively mat surface of the painting. The use of a rich, cream-like impasto is reserved for the variety of tactile ceramic objects included in the foreground. These material qualities – a richly embroidered, calculatedly scrubbed surface, and the exacting use of impasto – are directly comparable with the contemporaneous work of her husband, Ben Nicholson. However, the delicate pastel colouring here is distinctive to Winifred alone. The pink dress of Mrs Warwick and the blue dress worn by her daughter to the left make an important contribution to the formalist aspect of the composition, softening the effect of the picture and distinguishing it from the less compromising experiments of her contemporaries.

This portrait is also notable for its integration of a still-life theme – the white table cloth laid with cups and saucers, a brown teapot and a blue-banded milk jug. Tea things were of considerable interest to the Nicholson family of painters, including both Winifred and her husband Ben, as well as Ben’s father William Nicholson. The combination of portraiture and still life was first introduced much earlier by William in his Portrait of Mrs Curle (1905, Private Collection) (fig. 2). In both that work and The Warwick Family, the crisp white table cloth was an invitation to create pleasing domestic arrangements of ceramic and glass. These were not incidental matters and all three painters regarded the choice of tableware as an important stylistic decision; both Ben and William collected copious amounts of glass and ceramics vessels, for example. In The Warwick Family, the pink polka dot saucers and the rustic, thick-rimmed jug contribute to the playful, faux-naif aesthetic of the painting.

A rare work for both its subject-matter and scale, The Warwick Family brings together several key themes from Winifred Nicholson’s early career. The tenderness with which she painted her Cumbrian neighbours is complemented by a softened, warm-hearted modernism, characterised by tactile painterly effects and heightened, pastel-infused colouring. The ceramic vessels in the foreground, a trait of Nicholson family painting, at once contribute to the intimate domestic mood of the work while hinting to Nicholson’s life-long artistic pursuit of colour and shape through the genre of still-life. Painted at a formative moment in her career, The Warwick Family has a rich attention to detail and the care-free sensibility of a young woman discovering the pleasures of artistry.