The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Newzam Prior Nicholson, 1872-1949

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1872
Place of Birth: Newark-on-Trent
Date of Death: 1949
Place of Death:


Sir William Newzam Prior Nicholson was a painter and poster designer. He married the figure and portrait painter, Mabel Pryde, and together they had a son, Ben Nicholson, who became a painter.


Nicholson attended Hubert von Herkomer's school at Bushey from 1888 to 1889, but was dismissed for 'Whistlerian impudence'. He also studied at the Académie Julien in Paris. He and his brother-in-law the painter, poster artist and theatrical designer James Ferrier Pryde, under the name 'The Beggarstaff Brothers', designed a series of posters in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec from 1893 to 1899.

In 1896 JW recommended Nicholson to the London publisher William Heinemann, who commissioned An Alphabet, a series of woodcut illustrations. Nicholson first met JW at the Heinemann's house at Thames Ditton. Together they visited Hampton Court where Nicholson was pleased to find that his tastes matched those of JW. JW declared that Nicholson's woodcut portrait of Queen Victoria was 'wonderful'. Shortly after this JW began to pose to Nicholson in evening dress, wearing his Légion d'Honneur medal. The compositional format of the woodcut recalls JW's Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate (YMSM 315).

In 1898 Nicholson was invited to exhibit at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, a society that formed in this year with JW as its President. Around this time the premises of JW's 'Company of the Butterfly' at 2 Hinde Street, Manchester Square were given over to Heinemann for a show of Nicholson's colour prints.

Nicholson was also friendly with JW's friend and pupil Walter Greaves. Indeed, he painted Greaves' portrait in a tail coat standing against a white piano (Manchester City Art Gallery). From 1900 Nicholson worked mainly in oils. His debt to JW is evident in works such as Max (1900; National Portrait Gallery, London).

Nicholson also exhibited in London at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Grosvenor Gallery, New English Art Club, Beaux Arts Gallery and Goupil Gallery, as well as at the Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Hibernian Academy, Leicester Gallery, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, Manchester City Art Gallery and the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts. In 1909 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. He served as a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1934 to 1936, in which year he was knighted.


Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Steen, Marguerite, William Nicholson, London, 1943; Nichols, R., William Nicholson, Harmondsworth, 1948; Browse, L., William Nicholson, London, 1956; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1980; Robinson, D., William Nicholson: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, London, 1980; Campbell, C., William Nicholson: The Graphic Work, London, 1992; Banks, William Nicholson: Landscape and Still Life (Eastbourne, 1995); Duncan Robinson, E., 'William Nicholson', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, (ed. L. Macy, accessed 19 February 2003).