'Honeysuckle and Sweetpeas', Winifred Nicholson (1893–1981), (c) Trustees of Winifred Nicholson, Photo credit Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

Winifred Nicholson NEAC (1893–1981)


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Winifred Nicholson was a British painter, elected a member of the New English Art Club in 1937. She was married to the painter Ben Nicholson and was thus the daughter-in-law of the painter William Nicholson and his wife, the painter Mabel Pryde. She was also the mother of the painter Kate Nicholson.

She was a colourist who developed a personal impressionistic style, concentrating on domestic still life objects and landscapes. She often combined the two subjects as seen in her painting ‘From Bedroom Window, Bankshead’ showing a landscape viewed through a window with flowers in a vase in the foreground.

Nicholson is best known for painting flowers, which she used to convey her ideas about colour. By the late 1920s, she was widely respected in the London art world, with solo exhibitions at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1927 and the Leicester Galleries in 1930.

Nicholson was born Rosa Winifred Roberts in Oxford on 21 December 1893. She started painting as a teenager with her grandfather George Howard, who was a capable amateur painter and a friend of the Pre-Raphaelites William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, and of the Italian landscape painter Nino Costa. Nicholson went on to attend the Byam Shaw School of Art in London.

In 1920, she married the artist Ben Nicholson. The couple bought a villa in Switzerland, the Villa Capriccio near the village of Castagnola on the north shore of Lake Lugano in Ticino. They spent the winters in Switzerland and the summers in Britain, painting still-lifes and landscapes. In 1924, Winifred bought Bankshead, a farmhouse built on an ancient Roman castle forming part of Hadrian's Wall.

Although Nicholson painted less in the abstract style than in the representational, she did experiment with her own form of abstraction in the 1930s. Influences between her and Ben were mutual, Ben often admitting he learnt much about colour from his wife.

She and Ben had three children: Jake, Kate and Andrew. By the time of Kate's birth in 1929 there were tensions in the marriage. In 1931, Ben met Barbara Hepworth – whom he later married – and he and Winifred separated. In 1932, Winifred moved with her three children to Paris where Ben often visited them, sometimes with Hepworth. They divorced in 1938, and Ben married Hepworth in November of the same year. Winifred spent most of the rest of her long life in Cumberland, at Boothby where her father lived, and at Bankshead. She died in Cumbria on 5 March 1981.


Nicholson painted prolifically throughout her life, largely at home but also on trips to Italy, Greece and Scotland, among other places. Many of her works are in private collections, but a number are in the Kettle's Yard art gallery, Cambridge, and several key works belong to 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 1970s she made particularly strong, innovative use of such colours in many of her paintings. She left some written accounts of her thoughts on colour.

Significant exhibitions of her works have taken place at the Tate Gallery (1987), at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, Cumbria, at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge and at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh. Her auction record of £200,000 was set at Sotheby's in London in 2016 for her 1928 oil and coloured pencil on panel St Ives Harbour from David Bowie's collection.

This is an edited version of the Wikipedia entry for Winifred Nicholson.

You can view a selection of Nicholson's paintings on the ArtUK website.

Featured painting: 'Honeysuckle and Sweetpeas' (c) Trustees of Winifred Nicholson. Photo credit Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums.