Saturday, August 18, 2018

William Nicholson: Lilian Browse vs Patricia Reed and my opinion on that glass jug

The outcome of the Fake and Fortune programme past week almost caused a Twitter meltdown

So I decided to take a look at
  • the relative credentials of the two authors of the two very different catalogue raisonnes for William Nicholson - one that included the painting of the Glass Jug (in handwriting) and one which did not.
  • the rationale for the painting not being by Nicholson - given the weight of evidence about the board - by inspection of other Nicholson paintings involving jugs and/or pears

Two authors of a catalogue raisonne of the paintings of William Nicholson

The two authors are Lillian Browse - author of William Nicholson - published by R. Hart-Davis, 1956. The glass jug was included in her own handwriting at the back of her own personal copy of her book.

Cover of Lillian Browse's book about William Nicholson / Catalogue Raisonne

The second is Patrica Read - author of William Nicholson: A Catalogue Raisonne of the Oil Paintings | 672 pages: 284 x 264 x 45mm | 640 colour illustrations + 90 black & white illustrations

    Lillian Browse C.B.E. (1906- 2005)

    Lilian Browse was extremely well known. She was referred to as the Queen of Cork Street (the road in London where most of the prestigious art galleries can be found).
    • born in London and educated in South Africa, Lillian Browse returned to London in the 1920s with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer - but art intervened
    • she was an active London art dealer for over 50 years - from two galleries 
    • an art historian
    • her entry to the art world involved working as the equivalent of an intern, without pay, for Harold Leger of the well-known Leger Galleries in Bond Street. She was rapidly promoted from intern to secretary to manager.
    • She was involved in organising exhibitions by William Scott, Stanley Spencer, Charles Ginner, Jack Yeats, Edward Ardizzone and 'many more up and coming artists' of that time. 
    • she organised a number of exhibitions at the National Gallery during the second world war - while the permanent collection was evacuated to Wales
    • she helped to revive interest in such neglected figures as Rodin, Degas, William Nicholson, Augustus John and Walter Sickert, of whom she wrote a biography in 1960.
    She put on Edward Ardizzone's inaugural show and became friends with many other figurative artists of the period, including Jack Yeats, William Nicholson and Stanley Spencer. Telegraph Obituary
    • the "Christmas present" exhibition owes its origins to Lillian Browse and her perception that comparatively modestly-priced pieces of work would sell well prior to Christmas
    • after the war, n 1945 she began her partnership with Roland and Delbanco at 19 Cork Street, Mayfair - and got William Nicholson to join the gallery
    William Nicholson was one of the first contemporary painters to join the gallery and Lillian published a catalogue raisonnĂ© of his work in 1955. She discovered that one of his habits was collecting truant hairpins which he picked up from the pavement and which he would then use when he felt that a picture needed "improvement", leaving visible scratches. As a result she never let him see his pictures alone. Telegraph Obituary
    But, of all the painters she came to know, she reminisced in 1985, ‘the man I really loved was William Nicholson.’ The memory of his ‘delightful courtesy and charm’ during their first meeting at his Apple Tree Studio in the 1930s left a lasting impression, and - despite the considerable difference in their age (34 years) - they became ‘devoted friends.’ She particularly admired this painting and the ‘controlled freedom’ of Nicholson’s paint handling, which she felt showed the touch ‘not of a virtuoso, but of a master. 
    • she opened Browse and Darby at the same premises in Cork Street in 1977.
    • in 1960, she organised the Sickert centenary exhibition at the Tate in 1960, 
    • in 1983, she gave the greater part of her own collection of late 19th and early 20th-century paintings, drawings and sculpture to the Courtauld Institute.
    • in 1998, she was appointed CBE for services to the visual arts
    • in 1999,  her autobiography was published titled "Duchess of Cork Street" - a nickname given to her by her neighbour Rex Nan Kivell, the founder of the Redfern Galley.
    • she also wore legendary hats!

    She died, agee 99 in 2005.

    In short, this is a person who knew William Nicholson very well, probably visited his studio more than once and, after his death, wrote a book about him.

    • The glass jug was not mentioned in the book - but was later added in her own handwriting to the end of her copy of her book.
    • The weakness in the argument for her being the greater authority is that she never got the opportunity to check any of the paintings she did not know at the time of writing the book with the artist himself.

    Patricia Reed

    I can find no information about this woman. Absolutely and precisely nothing. Nada.

    It's very odd.

    Even the OFFICIAL publisher statement about her as the author of the most recent Catalogue Raisonne states merely
    Patricia Reed is an independent art historian and the principal scholar on the oil paintings of William Nicholson.
    I'd just note that I have NEVER ever found such a lack of information about an author of note online - particularly when that individual is supposed to be the acknowledged expert on an artist.

    The reviews of her book indicate that people have a high regard for her academic approach and the thorough nature of her catalogue.

    However the book has attracted this review on Amazon
    We are used to catalogue raisonnes having a selection of full page reproductions but with most images, by the limitations of space, reduced to a small size, often many to a page. I have several particularly good ones, Picasso's graphic works and Fairfield Porter. It is a trade off we understand for the complete works in one volume. However, the sheer waste of white space in this book is diabolical. If this book has given itself the luxury of spreading images out one or two to a page, why are they reproduced so small when the accompanying text often leaves half the page completely empty. You just know some graphic designer has entirely priveleged his/her layout over the actual content, or the editors have been so preoccupied about including the minutest details of provenance that their personal familiarity with the actual paintings, or good reproductions of them, has blinded them to the inadequacy of the reproductions here.

    Many paintings have been reproduced better in other books on Nicholson and not just for scale. Many look too desaturated. It is a feature of his work that very subtle tonal and colour relationships radiate slowly from the painting. A good reproduction should seek to capture something of this sensation before the work and not take an 'honest' snap that bears no relation to our perception. Some are reproduced well but the quality is very inconsistent.

    Review of the rationale for the painting not being by Nicholson

    I should explain this section by saying my initial reaction when viewing the painting in advance of the programme was that it would be found that the painting was not by Nicholson.

    However my "evidence" was entirely to do with "eye" and nothing whatsoever to do with science. My rationale was entirely to do with the draughtsmanship relating to the curves of the jug.

    I think the scientific evidence produced by the programme established without doubt that
    • the board had been in Nicholson's studio at some point 
    • the paint on the back was almost certainly from it having been placed in his paintbox at some point
    • the painting underneath may well have been a wiped off painting of Freesias by Nicholson

    However that only means he may have once painted freesias, put the board in his box and then subsequently scraped/wiped it and had the board in his studio for a while.

    It did not establish that the painting of the jug was by Nicholson.

    I decided to look at other paintings of jugs by Nicholson - and work on the basis that although a painter may change their style over time, there are some things that rarely change.

    So below we have the painting of the glass jug and some other paintings by Nicholson.

    See what you think!

    First the painting in question. I agree with Patricia Read that the drawing of the jug handle and the ellipse of the mouth of the vase are both wrong.  Evidence of his other paintings strongly suggests this is not something he would do - even when he is painting in a less precise style.

    and to give a sense of size....

    Next other pears he painted

    Pears (1938) by William Nicholson
    oil on panel
    Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds Museums and Galleries

    then another sort of fruit - an apple

    Still Life, apple and knives

    Then other jugs with handles...

    First the glass jug in Canada

    Glass and Fruit (1938) by Sir William Nicholson (1938)
    (also known as Glass Jug and Fruit)
    National Gallery of Canada - Ottawa
    Next a glass jug on its own

    The trailed jug (Painted in 1917) by Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)
    with inscription 'Painted August 7th 1917, at 11 Regent Terrace Edinburth,
    by William Nicholson when on a visit to Arthur Kay.
    The glass is a trailed jug in the collection of A.K., Arthur Kay, 8/7/17' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas laid on board
    13¼ x 10¼ in. (33.7 x 26 cm.)
    Another glass jug

    Red Roses (1903) by Sir William Nicholson
    Painting - oil on panel | Private collection
    signed with initial and dated 1903
    Sold at Sotheby's October 24, 2005
    Though dated 1903, the subject matter, handling and palate of Red Roses clearly places it towards the end of Nicholson's painting career. The description in Browse of Red Roses in Glass Jug undoubtedly refers to the present work but the dating remains incongruous. No clear explanation exists for the signature and date given by the artist.

    Another (opaque) jug viewed from behind - at a similar angle

    Vase and Bowl on the Table by Sir William Nicholson
    Oil on board, Signed. 60X53 cm
    Lord Israel sieff
    and another - he really seemed to like looking at a jug from the most difficult angle. The year is comparable if the train timetable is to be believed.

    Pink still life with jug (1936) by William Nicholson
    oil on panel, Height: 35.5 cm (13.98 in.), Width: 43 cm (16.93 in.)
    Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 
    This one looks as if might be the same glass jug - just treated rather differently - although painted round about the same time

    Sunflowers (1933) signed 'Nicholson.' (lower right),
    signed with initials and inscribed 'Sunflowers/WN' (on the reverse)
    oil on panel 16 x 12½ in. (40.8 x 31.7 cm.)
    Painted circa 1933. | Sold by Christie's 16 November 2011
    This is a different sort of jug

    Sunflower in ivory vase, a Nocturne
    Another sort of jug

    Pink Lustre with Carnations (also known as The Lustre Jug) (1936)
     by Sir William Nicholson
    Painting - oil on panel
    Private collection
    You may have noticed by now that he paints ellipses which are pretty near perfect - and his handles are very fine.

    Hence the concern expressed by Patrica Read over the painting on Fake or Fortune.......

    The Lowestoft Bowl (1911) by William Nicholson
    I rest my case....

    UPDATE: I was sent this photo of a bubble glass jug - the lipe of which seems to make more sense of the Canadian painting. I've reviewed "glass bubble jug" as a query on Google Images - and there are an awful lot of them - and some have the curious wavy top lip.

    a glass bubble jug


    My first blog post last weekend - Art on Television #1: Fake or Fortune returns

    William Nicholson

    Lillian Browse


    Travelling Cosses said...

    I have just seen a rebroadcast of the Fake or Fortune. You have done a wonderful job of exploring the issues around the Nicholson. I find it incredible that Patricia Reed rejected this work of art in the face of all the overwhelming evidence. There is a wonderful comment on the issue from the National Gallery of Canada. Patricia Reed has embarrassed herself with her decision. The Reed book should never be purchased as punishment for her arrogance.

    Unknown said...

    Perfect comment. The way I see it is Patricia Reed owes Lynn the owner of the original Nicholson painting at least 200000 pounds. Wake up Patricia!!!

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