It is believed to date from around the time the artist attended Herkomer’s Art School in Bushey, Hertfordshire – an institution he left in 1891 in what his tutor Sir Hubert von Herkomer described as ‘a piece of Whistlerian impudence’ (Nicholson had arranged a model to pose nude with an open umbrella for the students to paint).
The 8 x 5 ins (21 x 13cm) oil on panel was given by the artist to his sister Mabel and then inherited by her daughter Phyllis Graham. On her retirement from nursing, Phyllis moved with her husband to Zigzag farm, Hastingleigh near Wye, Kent. It was while here that she met the local artist Gordon Davies (1926-2007) with whom she later lived with during her final years as a widow and to whom she gave four Nicholson paintings and a group of prints on her death.
The three works being offered at Grand Auctions on July 4 have been consigned by Davies’ sister. All of them feature in Patricia Reid’s catalogue raisonné of Nicholson’s paintings. ‘The Dandelion Field’ also appeared in the dedicated exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2004.
Probably painted near Bushey, it shows a young girl walking through the grass and dandelions almost at ground level. The artist also included his own shadow with the shape of his easel at the very bottom of the painting, a device he employed elsewhere during this period. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000.
The two other works also depict female sitters but more directly in terms of composition. One titled Woman by a Window has been dated to 1892 and is thought to be set in a fisherman's cottage, probably in St. Ives. With the auction house stating that the 15.5 x 12ins (40 x 31 cm) oil on canvas shows “the greater influence of Whistler on Nicholson’s style” and the artist’s “exceptional” control of lighting, it comes with higher expectations and is estimated at £30,000 to £50,000.
A third picture titled Girl in a Chair, again dated to 1892, is estimated at £15,000-20,000. The 19 x 11in (49 x 28cm) oil on mill board is thought to depict either one of Nicholson’s younger cousins, or the daughter of his older cousin Alfred Nicholson Leeds.
On a somewhat different theme, another lot in the sale is a letter dictated by Horatio Nelson to John Scott, his secretary on board HMS Victory. The letter, which is signed by the Vice-Admiral and dated 1803, relates to reports of Spanish and French naval movements. It is estimated at £9000-15,000.