Lot 11
  • 11

Sir William Nicholson

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sir William Nicholson
  • rupert and deirdre hart-davis as children
  • signed and dated 1912.
  • oil on canvas
  • 127 by 101.5cm.; 50 by 40in.


The picture was commissioned by the children's mother Sybil Hart-Davis and thence by descent to the present owners


London, National Portrait Society, 1913, cat. no.10.


Lillian Browse, William Nicholson, Rupert Hart-Davis, London 1956, p.64, cat. no.192;
Andrew Nicholson, William Nicholson: Painter, Giles de la Mare Publishers, London 1996, p.119.

Catalogue Note

Painted at Rottingdean in the summer of 1912.

The present painting belongs to an interesting group of informal portraits of children which Nicholson produced in the period prior to the outbreak of WWI. Mostly showing his own family or the children of friends, these portraits show Nicholson experimenting with the accepted forms of the genre, bringing a spontaneity and appeal that is refreshing in the body of portraiture at the time.

The children of Richard and Sybil Hart-Davis, Rupert and Deirdre are depicted by Nicholson aged five and three, and his presentation of the brother and sister manages to avoid the sentimentality that was prevalent in much pre-WWI painting. Using a rich, dark background, both children are directly engaged by something away to our left which Deirdre points out to her brother. The informal clothing, even down to their rumpled socks and tousled hair, and lack of conventional portrait props suggests an immediacy that lifts the picture beyond a direct likeness, and is thus not only comparable to some of Nicholson's contemporary paintings of similar subjects but also to those by his friend Sir William Orpen. Indeed Orpen's own 1908 painting of his friend's family, A Bloomsbury Family (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), may have offered some pointers as to the informal presentation of children within a larger portrait.

Rupert's own connection to Nicholson was to be revived many years later when, well into a very successful literary career, he became the publisher of Lillian Browse's 1956 monograph on the artist. Indeed the title page illustrates the small vignette of the present work, drawn by Nicholson in a letter in place of a verbal description.

The children's mother, Sybil, was also the subject of an extremely stylish portrait by Nicholson (Private Collection), painted in 1913 and sold in these rooms, 21st June 2000, lot 21.