Francis Nicholson, OWS (1753-1844) Francis Nicholson made his name as a landscape watercolourist in a Romantic vein. By combining a traditional approach to composition with an interest in technical experiments, he became a popular teacher.
Francis Nicholson was born in Pickering, Yorkshire on 14 November 1753, the son of a weaver. His father discouraged his interest in art, but did allow him to go to Scarborough to study with a copyist of old masters. Back in Pickering, he found work as a draughtsman of animals for members of the local gentry. After two years, he went to London, where he received lessons from Conrad Martin Metz; however, he had to return home due to a lack of money.
After he painted the ceiling of a large summerhouse for a local magistrate, he began to gain commissions for portraits and sporting subjects.
In 1783, Nicholson settled in Whitby, where he married. He attempted to become a portraitist but, unable to flatter his clients, he turned to painting their houses, and this led him to produce landscapes in watercolour. His pictures were sent for sale in London and Scarborough, and exhibited infrequently at the Royal Academy of Arts (between 1789 and 1803). During the same period he also contributed drawings for John Walker’s The Copper Plate Magazine.
Nicholson moved to Knaresborough in 1792, and then to Ripon in 1794. There he gave lessons to John Pearson (who passed off his drawings as those of Nicholson), and was patronised by Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall and the Marquess of Bute. The sketches that he made while touring with the Marquess, to Bute and other parts of Scotland, provided him with subjects for years to come, while his interest in the country was revived by a visit to its lowlands in 1812.
In the late 1790s, Nicholson moved south, living near friends at Weybridge, Surrey, and then in London: in Somers Town (by 1803) and at 52 Charlotte Street (from 1810). Almost immediately, he helped to raise the profile of watercolour, developing his own practice as a drawing master and, in 1804, becoming a founder of the Society of Painters in Water Colours. When the society was reformed as the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours in 1812, he became its President, but resigned a year later to focus on his flourishing teaching career and, increasingly, experiments with techniques and pigments. The results of these interests were published as The Practice of Drawing and Painting Landscapes from Nature, in Watercolours (1820). This was soon followed by selections of 800 lithographs, issued as Sketches of British Scenery (1821) and Six Views of Scarborough (1822). He continued to accept occasional commissions, notably from Richard Colt Hoare, for a series of watercolours of Stourhead, his celebrated landscape garden (1813-16).
His nephew George Nicholson, his son Alfred Nicholson and his daughters Sophia (Ayrton) and Marianne (Crofton) were all watercolourists who worked in his manner.
He died at home in Charlotte Street on 6 March 1844.
His work is represented in the Government Art Collection, and numerous public collections.