Francis Nicholson (1753 - 1844)
The Father of
"Marvellous! Is it possible?"
In the eighteenth century, water-coloured pictures were usually described as 'stained drawings'. They had their own peculiar charm but, as in the one of Scampston Hall shown below, they lacked the depth and variety of tone that is found in nature. They were not considered 'proper paintings'. Nor was it thought possible that water-colours would ever compete with the quality of oils.
But in 1798, there was a little stir among connoisseurs. When the Earl of Warwick showed two water-coloured Welsh scenes to an established London artist, the latter was astonished :
"Marvellous! Is it possible? Can these be done in transparent water-colours?"
"By whom, my Lord?"
"By Francis Nicholson, a provincial artist living in the vicinity of York."
That same year, Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall had written to Nicholson "I really could not have supposed such an improvement possible in so short a space of time." In 1799, The Society of Arts paid Nicholson twenty guineas (£21) to demonstrate his method to their committee. In their Transactions of that year, they remarked that Mr. Nicholson's method produced images "with the utmost sharpness, and with all the lightness and freedom of which body colour, or oil painting, are capable."
The breakthrough which allowed water-colours to vie with oils had been made!
Within his own lifetime, Francis Nicholson was acknowledged as 'The Father of English Water-colour Painting.'
2. Early Years
4. The Lithograph
5. An Unkind History
6. The Nicholson Group
8. Gallery 1
9. Gallery 2
10. Gallery 3
Stained drawing by Francis Nicholson, c.1791
courtesy : Scampston Hall
Note : In 2007, three Nicholson water-colours of Wiganthorp Hall of a similar style and time period as the Scampston Hall series sold at Bonhams, New Bond St., London for $30,715. See : http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/14229/lot/35/