Winifred Nicholson

Winifred Nicholson

Nicholson was an English painter who developed a personalized impressionistic style that concentrated on domestic subjects and landscapes. In her work, the two motifs are often combined in a modest view out of a window, featuring flowers in a vase or a jug. Read more

Nicholson was born in Oxford in 1893 as Winifred Roberts. Her parents were Charles Roberts, a Liberal Party politician, ex-academic and (through his wife) landowner, and Lady Cecilia, daughter of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle. From an early age Winifred Nicholson was encouraged to paint. George Howard was an accomplished painter as well as a friend and patron of many distinguished painters, including the Pre-Raphaelites and members of the Etruscan school. Nicholson began painting with Howard around age 11. She attended the Byam Shaw Art School.



Nicholson married the artist Ben Nicholson in 1920. In the 1920’s Winifred became a Christian Scientist, an allegiance that lasted for the rest of her life. Although it is sometimes said that with Ben, Winifred formed part of the artist colony at St Ives, Cornwall, she was never permanently living there. She painted less in the abstract style than in the representational, but did experiment with her own form of abstraction in the 1930’s. Influences between she and Nicholson were mutual; he admitted to learning much of what he knew about colour from his first wife.

After her divorce from Nicholson in 1938, she lived half of each year during the 1930’s in Paris, and thereafter she spent most of the rest of her long life in Cumberland, at Boothby (where her father lived), and at Bankshead, both near Lanercost. She painted prolifically throughout her life, largely at home but also on trips to Greece and Scotland, among other places. Many of her works are still in private collections, but a number are in Kettle's Yard art gallery in Cambridge, and several key works belong to the Tate. One painting is believed to have hung at 10 Downing Street. She had a lifelong fascination for rainbow and spectrum colours and in the 1970’s she made particularly strong, innovative use of such colours in many of her paintings. She died in Cumbria in 1981, leaving a number of fascinating written accounts of her thoughts on colour.