William Newzam Prior Nicholson Biography

William Newzam Prior Nicholson




A man of many talents, Sir William Newzam Prior Nicholson, painter, printmaker, illustrator, and theater set designer was born in Newark-on-Trent, England, in 1872.  He attended Magnus Grammar School where he studied under William Cubley, and briefly studied at Hubert von Herkomer's art school from 1888 to 1889. He then attended Academie Julian in Paris from 1889 to 1890. There he met James Pryde, with whom he collaborated on various graphic design projects as the "Beggarstaff Brothers".

In 1893 he married Pryde's sister, Mabel, and they moved to Denham. That same year Nicholson began publishing with William Heinemann on the recommendation of James McNeil Whistler, who had seen Nicholson's fledgling woodcut work at the Fine Art Sociey in 1896. Through Heinemann Nicholson produced, among other celebrated woodcut works, The Alphabet and An Almanac of Twelve Sports. (However, Nicholson's celebrated commemorative woodcut H.M. Victoria was turned down by Heinemann due to its less flattering-- though more honest-- representation of the Queen; it was then published by W.E. Henley in his monthly magazine The New Review.) In 1928, he won a gold medal at the Olympics in the now defunct Art category for his Almanac of Twelve Sports, submitted without his knowledge.

Nicholson traveled throughout his career, through Europe and once to the United States. was commissioned to design the sets for the first production of Peter Pan in 1904. Graphic work wasn't proving lucrative enough to support his growing family, and he began focusing on painting at the turn of the century, holding his first one-man show at Stafford Gallery in London in 1903. His reputation as a portrait artist soon grew, and in 1911 he helped found the National Portrait Society. Tireless, Nicholson continued to work in illustration, collaborating with author Margery Williams on The Velveteen Rabbit in 1922, and co-illustrating works by Robert Graves with Graves' wife, Nicholson's own daughter Nancy. He was also a member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers.

Nicholson married twice, losing his wife Mabel to the Spanish flu in 1918, and leaving his second wife Edith Stuart Wotley in an amicable separation that did not, however, end in divorce. Nicholson met the author Margurite Steen in the early 1930s in Spain. They would remain companions until Nicholson's death in 1949.

He was knighted in 1936. After his retirement in 1942 following a debilitating stroke, the National Gallery gave a retrospective of his work. Nicholson was a member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers.