Private collection, UK
London, Crane Kalman Gallery, Winifred Nicholson, 1981, cat no.30, exhibited as Harmony in Pewter
London, Tate Gallery, Winifred Nicholson, 3 June- 2 August 1987, cat no.40, illus bw, touring to:
Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery. 15 August- 20 September 1987
Bristol, City Art Gallery, 26 September- 1 November, 1987
Stoke, City Art Gallery, 7 November- 13 December 1987
Aberdeen, City Art Gallery, 9 January- 31 January 1988
Cambridge, Kettle's Yard, 13 February- 20 March 1988
Judith Collins, Winifred Nicholson, Tate Publishing, London, 1987, cat no,40, illus b/w
Christopher Andreae, Winifred Nicholson, Lund Humphries, Ashgate Publishing, 2009, cat no.155, illus colour
Andrew Nicholson, Unknown Colour, Paintings, Letters, Writings by Winifred Nicholson, Faber and Faber, London, 1987, illus colour, p.176
By the end of the 1920s Winifred Nicholson had established herself, first and foremost, as a flower painter, becoming known in artistic circles as the ‘female Van Gogh’. Ben Nicholson’s remark that the subject held ‘endless possibilities’ for her is confirmed by the number and quality of paintings she produced
on this theme.
Live Pewter is one of Nicholson’s most lyrical paintings. The division of interior and exterior, implied in earlier works by the inclusion of a window-sill, has been completely dissolved. Instead the still life objects appear fully immersed and in tune with the landscape. It is likely that this work was painted at Boothby,
in Nicholson’s native Cumberland. As an artist so acutely aware of the symbolism behind things, this particular combination of objects with place seems wholly intentional. The pewter dish and cups pictured were heirlooms purchased by Nicholson at an auction held by her uncle, the 11th Earl of Carlisle, at her
family’s Naworth Castle estate in the 1940s. These items of ancestral importance, placed within the Cumberland landscape of the artist’s birth, create a poignant symbol of the artist’s identity.
The metaphysical and symbolic nature of objects was fundamental to Nicholsons’ perception of the world. Flowers were important to her not only for their beauty but as signifiers of some deeper truth. To her, they represented the ‘secret of the cosmos’ 1 completely in tune with the natural rhythm of the world.
Flowers also provided the perfect subject for Nicholson’s experiments in colour. In Live Pewter, the flowers appear as vital and luminous accents, uniting the composition. Green stems echo the hills behind and violet petals pick up on the
hazy blue of the sky. For Nicholson, colour was something that existed beyond the limits of human perception and her understanding of it was an emotional rather than intellectual one. Her working process reflects her intuitive approach; her
technique was fluid and immediate and canvases were most often painted in one sitting. Nicholson often worked en plein air, placing canvases on the floor and kneeling before them, responding wholly to the landscape with an acute perception.
1 Winifred Nicholson, ‘The Flowers Response,’ Unknown Colour, Paintings, Letters, Writings
by Winifred Nicholson, Faber and Faber, London, 1987, p216