caption

William Nicholson, Mells Manor House and Church

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)

Details

Country House
Mells Manor
Title(s)
Mells Manor House and Church
Date
c.1924–5
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Overall height: 30.5 cm, Overall width: 45.5 cm
Artist
William Nicholson (1872-1949)
Catalogue Number
MM85
Signature
  • Signed lower left: ‘Nicholson’

Description

The present landscape by William Nicholson shows the north front of Mells Manor and the adjacent church of St Andrew. It has been dated 1924–5 by Lillian Browse and to 1933 by Patricia Reed. The former date is accepted here because on the extreme right of the picture the line of the old stone wall enclosing the ‘North Court’ of the Manor garden ceases and a hedge of trees is depicted. That would have been the case up to the mid-1920s but by 1933 a concrete breeze-block wall had been added to the end of the North Court wall, extending westwards to enclose the Kitchen Garden beyond. Nicholson may, of course, have decided on aesthetic grounds not to have depicted that new wall (which was not elegant and which was subsequently demolished) but on a strictly topographical criterion the picture shows the walls as they appeared in the mid-1920s rather than 1933.1

William Nicholson was a diverse artist, painting still lifes, landscapes and portraits while also working as a wood engraver, lithographer and illustrator. Frances Horner was introduced to him in 1897 through connections with Edward Burne-Jones and the architect Edwin Lutyens. Following the death of his wife, Mabel Pryde, in the devastating outbreak of Spanish influenza of 1918, Nicholson married Edith Stuart-Wortley and through the 1920s lived and worked at the Old Manor House in Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, near Mells, where he visited at the invitation of Frances Horner. As well as the three landscapes (MM85, MM86, MM88), the flower piece (MM87), the Library door trompe l’oeil (MM82) and the design for the stained-glass window in St Andrew’s church, there is at Mells a blue-tinted print, entitled The Timeserver, representing a poem by Geoffrey Taylor, written out in Nicholson’s manuscript next to an image of the Winged Victory of Samothrace drawn by Nicholson.2 He also made a number of blue-tinted images of Mells, which were reproduced in Frances Horner’s autobiography, Time Remembered, published in 1933. In the book she makes only the briefest mention of Nicholson, whom she calls ‘one of the greatest painters of our time’.3 Nicholson and Frances Horner were, however, on close terms. In 1936, when Nicholson was honoured with a knighthood, he wrote to Frances, after she had congratulated him, including a drawing of himself in a plumed helmet: ‘Frances dear, I am so delighted that you were delighted. It’s an odd and unsought for thing that has happened . . . There is nothing in life that I like so well as to be with you and dear Mells . . . Do you think my helmet suits me?’.4

by Devon Cox and Martin Postle

Bibliography

Frances Horner, Time Remembered, London : WIlliam Heinemann, 1933, frontispiece


Vita Sackville-West, English Country Houses, 2nd edn, London : William Collins, 1942, p. 13


Lillian Browse, William Nicholson, London : Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956, p. 307


Patricia Reed, William Nicholson: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, London : Modern Art Press, 2011, cat. no. 691, p. 534


Footnotes

  1. Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, private communication, 17 July 2020.

    1
  2. Geoffrey Phibbs (1900–1956), who used the surname Taylor after his mother’s maiden name, was for a time the lover of Nicholson’s daughter, Nancy, who was in turn married to the poet Robert Graves (see MM82).

    2
  3. Frances Horner, Time Remembered, London: William Heinemann, 1933, p. 193.

    3
  4. William Nicholson to Frances Horner, 29 June 1936, Mells Manor Archive, M/01/1287.

    4

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