John Miller Nicholson Exhibition

– Posted on Thursday 21st March 2013

Manx National Heritage is pleased to announce the opening of its latest exhibition John Miller Nicholson – Manx National Artist’ at the Manx Museum on Saturday 23 March 2013. 

Nicholson was a man of many talents, who was also considered to be the Isle of Man’s greatest artist, producing a great wealth of art during his lifelong career. He recorded and captured the world and people around him on an almost daily basis and in a variety of different ways with detailed sketches in his notebook and later with a small hand-held camera. Unlike many of his contemporaries who would photograph carefully composed scenes, usually in their studios, Nicholson would take his Eureka ‘Detective’ camera out on to Douglas promenade or through Douglas market and capture scenes probably without his subjects even realising they had been photographed.

His early watercolours were almost photographic representations of the Isle of Man he saw in the 1870s. Rather than scenic or timeless views of the Manx countryside, Nicholson recorded the detail of daily life from boats loading and unloading on the South Quay by the Douglas town gasworks to tourists in rowing boats and swimming by Douglas Head lighthouse.

Following a trip to Venice in 1882, on the advice of the great Victorian art critic, John Ruskin, Nicholson’s artwork became more impressionistic. Instead of trying to record every last detail of a scene, Nicholson wanted to capture the ever changing light and a fleeting moment in time.

Tony Pass, Chairman of the Trustees of Manx National Heritage said:

 “John Nicholson was the first of a succession of great Manx artists. Although practically self-educated, ‘home grown’ in the Island, his work was appreciated widely, following the artistic mainstream from Pre-Raphaelite influences to the Impressionism of his later career. It is a particular pleasure to open the Nicholson exhibition so soon after a visit to Venice where we traced his artistic footsteps”.

 Yvonne Cresswell, Curator of Social History said:

 “Whether painting views of Venice or of his home town of Douglas, Nicholson painted what he saw with a quality and beauty that still has the capacity to fascinate and captivate viewers as much now as when they were first seen over a hundred years ago.  Under Nicholson’s paintbrush, views of Douglas prom look like the elegant promenades of the French Riviera and the old Douglas market becomes a Parisian street market, full of hustle and bustle.”

 Nicholson’s work was frequently compared to that of Turner, one of Britain’s greatest artists, and was greatly admired by John Ruskin, the leading Victorian art critic.

Born in Douglas in 1840, the eldest son of an English painter and decorator, Nicholson followed his father into the family firm – an occupation he would follow until his death in 1913. But following early encouragement from his mother, who died when he was a young child, he also pursued his lifelong love of art.

Visitors to ‘John Miller Nicholson – Manx National Artist’ will have the opportunity to discover for themselves why Nicholson was held in such high esteem as an artist. But the words of a fellow Manx artist following Nicholson’s death show the high esteem in which John Miller Nicholson was held by his contemporaries: “…the success he achieved in dealing with colour…accurate in drawing and in the weights of colour; full of a knowledge of light…His skill with pigments was perfect; no modern painter has it in an equal degree…” Archibald Knox (1913).

The exhibition is on display at the Manx Museum until 31 August 2013 and features a selection of Nicholson’s finest works including oil paintings, watercolours, pencil sketches, graphic designs and photographs. Admission is free.

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