Winifred Nicolson (1893 – 1981) was a British artist I had never heard of until recently.
The curious thing about her biography is the special combination of her own origin and the profile of her married family. She was born in Oxford. Her father and maternal grandfather were politicians. Winifred Nicholson married the artist Ben Nicholson, whose parents have been painters. Their daughter Kate also inherited the artistic talent of the parents and in turn became an artist.
This perhaps provides an explanation of an interesting synergy in her life of congenital aristocracy, sophistication and artistic sensibility.
She studied in London, but because of her father’s occupation, she has travelled a lot and has visited India, Burma and Ceylon in her childhood.
Initially, she painted together with her grandfather, and later she attended the Byam Shaw School Private Arts School in London with some interruptions because of the First world war.
After creating a family in 1920 year, along with Ben she bought a villa in Switzerland, on the shores of the lake Lugano. They spent the winter months there, and the summers in the UK.
In 1924 the young family purchased a property and a farm in Cumbria, an area in the northwest part of the island. Interestingly, the land was located in the area of the Emperor Hadrian wall, and the house was built on the grounds of an old Roman fortification.
Winifred and Ben had three children, but in their marriage, a crack appeared, which they could not repair. They got divorced in 1931 and after the divorce she went to live with the children in Paris. With Ben throughout their lives she maintained a friendly relationship and he often met the children.
After the divorce, for fifty years, Winifred lived for most of the time in their house in Cumbria.
Winifred has a very individual impressionistic or rather post-impressionistic style of painting. Most of her works are landscapes and still life, although there are also quite good abstract paintings and portraits. She painted mainly with oil on canvas.
Her art is very feminine, in the best sense of the word – there is a calm and homely atmosphere in her works. She basically painted what surrounded her. Her loved ones in their daily pursuits. Nature – the mountain, the field, the sea, the sky… Polish and garden flowers – her favourite bouquets, without which she could not spend a day.
She was in love with the flowers – she believed they are mysterious creatures that give both tenderness and energy.
Winifred has been thinking for many years about the role and power of colours in art, and there are quite a few publications of her on this topic. She used mainly pastel, muted colours, in a very subtle and delicate colour mix.
Her paintings simply radiate gentle energy, natural light. She has an interesting statement, which I very much like – that the picture is a focal point in a room, it is not just a window but the light at home.
Her brush senses all aspects of time – wind, fog, sun, rain, cold, heat… Looking at her paintings, made in different seasons, you can just physically feel the time in them.
Her talent to communicate with nature is unique, indeed! In her paintings, she seemed quietly talking to the nature.
An interesting inspiring motive for Winifred was the rainbow – no wonder with this almost pagan adoration of the light. Winifred leaved many works in which the rainbow or a gentle refraction of light are painted, in different seasons and times of the day. I think, these paintings themselves can be a subject of a separate art research study.
I choose to show you her painting “Birds by the sea.”
These are sea snipes, which are very typical for the area of Cumbria. It’s autumn in the picture. The colours are blasted, the summer is going to leave away. The birds are preparing to migrate and make their last farewell circles over the water, gathering power for a distant flight. Where are they going? Nobody knows…
For everyone who loves Updike – does it remind you of Sally and Jerry taking off in his novel “Marry Me”? On the beach, at the end of a long summer in Connecticut, full of sad revelations of an unpredictable love and with the gentle irony of growing up?
Pictures of Winifred Nicholson can be seen in Wikiart and also on the site with her name and extension com, created by her family.