Francis Nicholson (1753 - 1844)




"This genius must be one of us. The metropolis is his sphere."



In 1801, Nicholson removed his family to Weybridge (Surrey) and, after a short stay there, to London where he earned a living as a drawing master. But, whilst the public was becoming more interested in water-colour painting, the Royal Academy's regard for the genre remained lukewarm. Finally, in 1804, two prominent water-colour artists - Robert Hills and William Henry Pyne - invited Nicholson to join them in creating a separate Society of Artists in Water-colours. He readily agreed. Their first exhibition, in 1805, was a resounding success. And it was Nicholson's work which most caught the eye - if not the sales - as Pyne would later recall :

Site Map


1. Home

2. Early Years

3. London

4. The Lithograph

5. An Unkind History

6. The Nicholson Group

7. Acknowledgements

8. Gallery 1

9. Gallery 2

10. Gallery 3

11. Links

"From the time his drawings appeared upon the walls of the first exhibition of the Society, many of it's members, Professors of landscape, wrought their elegant designs with a greater degree of force and effect."

The Society - now known as the Old Water-colour Society (O.W.C.S. or O.W.S.) and which later evolved into the Royal Water-colour Society - took the genre to heights of performance, and of public acclaim, it had never known before. Nicholson remained with the Society until 1813, when he resigned as its President.


Francis Nicholson water colour of Nant Mill, North Wales

Nant Mill, North Wales

Water-colour by Francis Nicholson

First exhibited in 1809


In 1812, Nicholson exhibited View between Naples and Vietri from a sketch by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Bart. This association between Nicholson and the Hoare family of Stourhead, Wiltshire, had been developing since 1808 at latest, for, that year, Nicholson had exhibited View between Christiana and Konigsburg, in Norway, from a sketch by Sir. T. Ackland who was nephew to Sir Richard via his mother, Henrietta Ann Fortescue.


Sir Richard Colt Hoare was an enthusiastic antiquarian, who remains famous for having conducted - with William Cunningham - the first recorded excavations of Stonehenge (1798 and 1810). He wrote the important Ancient History of North and South Wiltshire (1812 - 1819). In 1813, Nicholson exhibited Stonehenge at the first exhibition of the newly evolved Society of Artists in Oil and Water-colours. That painting marked the beginning of a three-year series covering the whole Stourhead estate. This series was later bought by the British Museum, though Stonehenge itself remains on show at Stourhead.


Note : Nicholson's Stonehenge may be seen at :


Of Nicholson's activity between 1817 and 1819, we know nothing, other than that he sold a water-colour painting to Walter Fawkes for £25 (which, at that price, Fawkes considered a present!) By 1820, however, he had completed a number of aquatints for two books by Robert Havell, and had written a notable book of instruction entitled The Practice of Drawing and Painting Landscape from Nature in Water Colours. This latter was expanded and reprinted in 1823. But by 1820, his main interest seems to have lain elsewhere.