A very English subject, treated with Nicholls’s characteristic sense of pastoral serenity and timelessness, in his thin washes of oil paint: this is a beautifully composed landscape. He renders the natural features – trees, bushes, the sweep of the river – in abstracted blocks of colour, just as he does with architecture, which enhances the sense of permanence and significance in an apparently simple scene. At the same time Nicholls has improved on reality by altering the structure of the Castle, moving the towers closer together to emphasize the brooding silhouette beyond the trees, and balancing it with the weir across the river. This juxtaposition hints at man’s control and manipulation of nature, undercutting the romantic pastoral. A poetic and striking image…
Bertram Nicholls (1883-1974) was born at Didsbury, son of a Manchester businessman. He trained with Reginald Barber, a local portrait painter, and then for three years at the Slade, ‘but two of those years, he maintains, were wasted.’ In 1904 he studied Velasquez in Madrid; on his return he worked with Frederick Jackson, one of the Staithes Group of artists [see John William Howey], with whom he learnt landscape painting en plein air. In 1911 he met the New York artist Frank Mura and later settled in Sussex, very near Mura, whose work was a formative influence on his own art; two further important influences were Reynolds and Richard Wilson.
Nicholls exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1912; from 1923-34 he was president of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, and in 1931 was elected president of the Royal Society of British Artists. His first one-man show (a sell-out) was held at Barbizon House in 1924; he exhibited there in 1926, 1928 and 1932; in 1933 he had his first exhibition of watercolours at the Fine Art Society.
Works in public collections include San Giovanni Nepomuceno (Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery); Rochester Castle (Bradford Museums & Galleries); Quay in Italy (Southend Museum Service); Chepstow Castle and The Bridge (both Worthing Museum and Art Gallery); Riverside town (Brighton & Hove Museums & Art Galleries); Lancing Chapel (Towner Art Gallery); and others in Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums; Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia; New Zealand, Auckland Art Gallery; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery; National Gallery of Ireland; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; London, British Museum, Guildhall Art Gallery and Tate; Manchester City Art Gallery; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; National Gallery of Canada; Preston, Harris Museum and Art Gallery.
See the RSBA publication of his work – Bertram Nicholls (1883- ), Frank Rutter, 1935, ed. of 750 – which quotes Nicholls extensively from articles in The Artist, VI, nos 1-6, Sept.-Dec. 1933 & Jan.-Feb. 1934. See also Painting in Oils by Bertram Nicholls, The Studio Publications, 1945.