Lot 2
  • 2

Winifred Nicholson

50,000 - 70,000 GBP
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  • Winifred Nicholson
  • St Ives Harbour
  • signed and dated 1928 on the reverse
  • oil and coloured pencil on panel
  • 56.5 by 103.5cm.; 22¼ by 40¾in.


Leicester Galleries, London, where acquired by Sir Edward Marsh in 1930
Sale, Christie's South Kensington, 17th April 1994, lot 223, where acquired by David Bowie


London, Leicester Galleries, Exhibition of Works by Winifred Nicholson, April 1930, cat. no.1;
Johannesburg, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Empire Exhibition, 1936, cat. no.596 (as Poole Harbour);
London, British Institute of Adult Education (details untraced);
London, Crane Kalman Gallery, Ben Nicholson and Two Wives: Winifred Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, 21st March - 4th May 1996, cat. no.26, illustrated.


Edward Marsh, 'Patronage in Art Today III', The Listener, 18th September 1935, Issue 349, illustrated p.487.


The panel is bowed, but otherwise appears sound. There are some fine lines of cracking to the panel, in line with the grain of the wood. There are some tiny possible flecks of loss to the composition, only visible upon very close inspection, and most apparent towards the centre of composition and to the boat to the right. There may be some flattening to the tips of impasto in places, and there is a small loss to the left tip of the bird just left of centre. There are some light scuff marks apparent in the lower left and right corners, and in the upper left corner. There is some light surface dirt and a few speckles of matter in places. Subject to the above, the work appears to be in very good overall condition. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals no obvious signs of fluorescence or retouching. The work is presented in a simple wooden frame. Please telephone the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

We are grateful to Jovan Nicholson for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.

St Ives, a Cornish harbour town at the far south-westerly tip of England, has legendary status in the context of 20th Century British Art. Like the Cote d’Azur to Paris, Long Island to Manhattan, St Ives was a haven from the cacophony of London a beacon of light, colour and carefree creativity.

In the summer of 1928 three of the most avant-garde artists of their generation, Winifred Nicholson, her husband Ben and their close friend Christopher (Kit) Wood, moved down to Cornwall, staying first at Feock before St Ives. The change of pace, landscape and sea air inspired their best work of the period. The three had, earlier that year, worked together at the Nicholsons’ house in Cumberland where 'inspiration ran high and flew backwards and forwards from one to the other’ (Winifred Nicholson, 'Blue Was His Colour', Unknown Colour, Faber & Faber, London, 1987, p.8). They painted with stylized naivety, reducing what they saw around them to their most fundamental elements, very much in keeping with Picasso’s 1920s classicism just the other side of the Channel and a so-called return to innocence after the devastation of World War I. That August of 1928, Ben and Kit stumbled across the retired mariner Alfred Wallis and were mesmerised by his raw, untutored pictures of boats and harbours which encapsulated everything the three had been working towards.

Winifred’s painting of St Ives synthesizes all of this, deftly portraying the sweeping topography of the harbour with a few confident impasto strokes and capturing the invigorating Cornish palette of blue and green hues. But the composition is far more than just a fleeting impression of a sleepy seaside town – the painting exemplifies the very essence of what it was to be a contemporary artist during the 1920s: to paint at the far flung edge of the country and develop a visual vocabulary that is emblematic of the changing tide after the war. Just over 10 years later, Ben Nicholson would leave war torn London with his second wife Barbara Hepworth literally moving the epicentre of avant-garde Britain to St Ives.

It is significant that the first owner of the present work was Sir Edward (Eddie) Marsh (1872-1953), one of the most important patrons of Contemporary Art in Britain during the first half of the 20th Century. An eminent civil servant and Private Secretary to Sir Winston Churchill for over 20 years, Marsh was also Chairman of the Contemporary Art Society for the last 15 years of his life and a major supporter of artists such as Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland.