Sir William Nicholson

Sir William Nicholson (1872–1949)

William Nicholson was an English painter of still-life, landscape and portraits, perhaps better known for his work as a wood-engraver and illustrator.

Nicholson was born in Newark-on-Trent on 5 February 1872. Whilst at school he had art lessons from the painter William Cubley and was briefly a student at Hubert von Herkomer’s art school, where he met his future wife, Mabel Pride, who introduced him to her brother, James Pride. From the autumn of 1891 he attended the Académie Julian in Paris, but after six months returned to Newark.

In the spring of 1893 Nicholson eloped with Mabel Pryde whom he had by then known for four years; they were married in April that same year. The couple went to live in what had been a pub, the Eight Bells at Denham, Bucks and were soon joined by Mabel’s brother, James. William and Mabel Nicholson had four children, the eldest of whom was the celebrated painter Ben Nicholson.

From 1893 to 1898 Nicholson collaborated with his brother-in-law James Pryde on poster design and other graphic work including signboard painting and book illustration. They called themselves the Beggarstaffs, or J. & W. Beggarstaff; in recent times they have been referred to as the Beggarstaff Brothers. Between 1898 and 1901 Nicholson went on to produce the series of books, illustrated with woodcuts and published by Heinemann, for which he now most popularly known, ‘An Alphabet’, ‘An Almanac of Twelve Sports’, ‘London Types’ and ‘A Square Books of Animals’.

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