William Nicholson, Dahlias

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
? later 1920s
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 32 cm, Overall width: 40 cm
William Nicholson (1872-1949)
Catalogue Number


The present still-life painting of flowers hangs in the Oak Room at Mells, the same room in which it hung when it was recorded by Frances Horner as being given to her by William Nicholson, together with his sketch of the Wiltshire Downs (MM88).1 Although Frances Horner did not mention when it was painted or presented to her – it is not signed or dated – the frame bears a resemblance in style to those used for the two Nicholson oil paintings of the Manor House and its surroundings (MM85 and MM86). It may well, therefore, have been painted around the same time.

 Throughout his career, Nicholson enjoyed painting still-life compositions of flowers. These pictures involved a range of flower species and colours – pale and gaudy, bold and delicate. In this instance the chosen flowers appear to be various cultivars of the dahlia, including a yellow, a red with yellow centre, a deep red pompom and a purple. Nicholson also presented his flowers in a variety of containers, from cut-glass vases to porcelain jugs and silverware. A similar container to the one depicted in the present painting, which itself bears a drawn flower motif, can be found in Nicholson’s painting Double Anemones, of 1921.2 He also often set the flower arrangements on tablecloths, such as the silvery grey one in the present painting. Nicholson’s style and technique, as revealed in his still-life flower paintings, was quite variable, ranging from the precision of earlier paintings to the broad brushstrokes found in later ones. A constant factor, however, was the exploration of reflected light on surfaces.

by Martin Postle


  1. Frances Horner, ‘Concerning Mells Manor House and its Contents’, bound typescript, n.p., Mells Manor Archive, D/08/0627.

  2. Sir William Nicholson, Double Anemones, signed and dated ‘Nicholson 1921’, oil on panel, 45.1 x 47 cm, Christie’s, London, 16 November 2011 (17).


Related catalogue items from Mells Manor

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    The Entry into Noah’s Ark

    follower of Jacopo Bassano, ? mid-17th century

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    The Resurrection

    Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    Two wings of a tabernacle; left wing: SS Antony Abbott, Julian and Christopher

    possibly Scolaio di Giovanni, Alvaro Pirez or Battista di Gerio