It is believed to date from when the artist attended Herkomer School of Art in Bushey, Hertfordshire – an institution he left in 1891 in what his tutor Sir Hubert von Herkomer described as ” a piece of Whistlerian brazenness” (Nicholson had arranged a nude model with an open umbrella for the students to paint).
The 8 x 5 inch (21 x 13 cm) oil on panel was given by the artist to his sister Mabel and then inherited by his daughter Phyllis Graham. On retiring from nursing, Phyllis moved with her husband to Zigzag Farm, Hastingleigh near Wye, Kent. It was there that she met local artist Gordon Davies (1926-2007) with whom she later lived during her last years as a widow and to whom she gave four paintings by Nicholson and a group of prints to his death.
The three works offered at Grand Auctions on July 4 were consigned by Davies’ sister. All appear in Patricia Reid’s catalog raisonné of Nicholson’s paintings. “The Dandelion Field” also appeared in the dedicated exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2004.
Probably painted near Bushey, it shows a young girl walking through grass and dandelions almost at ground level. The artist also included his own shadow with the shape of his easel at the very bottom of the painting, a device he used elsewhere during this period. It is estimated between £15,000 and £20,000.
The other two works also represent seated women but more directly in terms of composition. A title woman at the window has been dated to 1892 and is thought to be in a fisherman’s cottage, probably in St. Ives. The auction house stating that the 15.5 x 12 inch (40 x 31 cm) oil on canvas shows “Whistler’s greatest influence on Nicholson’s style” and “exceptional” control of lighting from the artist, it comes with higher expectations and is estimated at £30,000-£50,000.
A third image titled Girl in a chair, again dated 1892, is estimated between £15,000 and £20,000. The 19 x 11 inch (49 x 28 cm) oil on board is thought to depict either one of Nicholson’s younger cousins or the daughter of his older cousin Alfred Nicholson Leeds.
On a somewhat different theme, another lot from the sale is a letter dictated by Horatio Nelson to John Scott, his secretary aboard HMS Victory. The letter, which is signed by the vice-admiral and dated 1803, concerns reports of Spanish and French naval movements. It is estimated between £9,000 and £15,000.