Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Unknown Colour: Winfred Nicholson

Boat on a Stormy Sea, 1928-29

While I was on the residency in County Mayo, Ireland I was able to read one book cover to cover (usually with a baby on my lap), and while I thought I would read many like I would have in the days before Clyde, I am glad that if it could only be one it was this one: Unknown Colour Paintings, Letters and Writings by Winifred Nicholson.  A British painter, living in the English countryside, she spoke of the landscape, birds and sea that I was looking at out my window each morning.

Lilies and Moonlight, 1930


 I have always preferred her work to her much more famous painter ex-husband Ben Nicholson.  It is unsung, probably because she was a woman, and also because she was painting flowers and 'intimate' subjects.  But the work is masterful and the record of her thinking in these correspondences with Ben and painter friends (including Mondrian) illuminate the complexity she is contending with.

Sandpipers, Alnmouth, 1933


There is one essay that is not by Nicholson, but a close friend, poet Kathleen Raine.  She puts it this way: "Long before I met her -- it might have been in 1930 at the Leicester Galleries -- I visited an exhibition of Winifred Nicholson's work and asked myself who this painter might be, who knew things about flowers I thought only I knew.  This is something I have since come to realize that we each of us feel in the presence of a work of great imaginative purity.  We do not feel (of Shakespeare or Bach) 'How much more they know than I' but rather 'How did they know?'  So my wondering question was itself a recognition -- not as a judgment but in a pure response -- of an artist of rare truth. "

Winter Hyacinth, 1950s


..."Winifred's painting grew out of her life with complete naturalness and simplicity.  The day's painting was a kind of fragrance breathed by that day and no other, its imaginative essence, its heart.  Each painting has its special mood and atmosphere, some joyous and full of light, some thoughtful and autumnal, others wild and lonely as winter; but all are alike in saying, like a character in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, 'Time stand still now!'  Because each day's here and now is so fully present, it lives on.  There is something unfading about a fleeting present fully captured.


Glimpse Upon Waking, 1976