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Winifred Nicholson

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Winifred Nicholson (1893–1981) was an English painter, a colourist who developed a personalized impressionistic style that concentrated on domestic subjects and landscapes. In her work, the two motifs are often combined in a view out of a window, featuring flowers in a vase or a jug.

Nicholson was born in Oxford as Winifred Roberts. Her parents were Charles Henry Roberts, a Liberal Party politician, ex-academic and (through his wife) landowner, and Lady Cecilia, daughter of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle. Her interest in painting started early in life. George Howard was an accomplished painter as well as a friend and patron of many distinguished astists, including the Pre-Raphaelites and members of the Etruscan school. Nicholson began painting with Howard around age 11. She attended the Byam Shaw Art School. An artist friend from Byam Shaw was Edith Jenkinson (Eejay Hooper), much of whose work was destroyed in bombing during World War II. The poet and literary critic Kathleen Raine was another friend later in her career.

Nicholson married the artist Ben Nicholson in 1920. There were three children of the marriage; Kate Nicholson also became an artist. In the 1920s Winifred became a Christian Scientist, an allegiance that lasted for the rest of her life. Although it is sometimes said incorrectly that with Ben, Winifred formed part of the artist colony at St Ives, Cornwall, she was never permanently living there. Although she 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 first wife. After they separated, she lived half of each year during the 1930s in Paris.

After her divorce from Ben Nicholson in 1938, she spent most of the rest of her long life in Cumberland, at Boothby where her father lived, and at Bankshead, both near Lanercost. She painted prolifically throughout her life, largely at home but also on trips to Greece and Scotland, among other places. Many of her works are still 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. She died in Cumbria on 5 March 1981.

Nicholson supported the Taiwanese artist Li Yuan-chia, who had previously worked in Milan and London. He ran the "LYC Museum", close to Bankshead. Significant exhibitions of her works have taken place at the Tate Gallery (1987), at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, and at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh.

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