[From Manx Quarterly #20 1919]
The opening of the Baume collection of Nicholson Pictures to the public, in what it is to be hoped will only be their temporary home in the Town Hall, is a red-letter day in the annals of Art in the Isle of Man. In the past, Manx art students have worked under considerable disadvantages compared with their brothers across the water, where large and important collections of pictures are easily accessible. And now that this very representative collection of the work of perhaps the greatest painter that the Island has yet produced is on view, it may not be too much to hope that a renaissance in the serious study of Art in the Island may come about, and Manxmen and Manx women, in the days of peace which he ahead, may produce artistic work worthy of their Celtic and Scandinavian ancestors, whose handicraft has left us a glorious heritage in the crosses which are such an outstanding feature of our Island home.
In considering the work of an artist, it as well, first of all, to point out that there are, broadly speaking, two distinct classes in which landscape painting may bedivided. In one comes that work which is chiefly concerned with the realisation details with accurate realism, almost photographic in its accuracy. It is at best a plain statement of obvious facts, and lacks that poetic feeling which alone can make a picture really interesting to all those whose love of Art is founded on a knowledge of Nature. In the other class come those works whose motive is the subduing of actualities to a large and comphrehensive effect of the subject as a whole. In this class falls all the work which sets down the poetry, so to speak, of Nature.
Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Discourses has told us that when a landscape painter knows his subject, " he will know not only what to describe, but also what to omit; and this skill in leaving out is, in all things, a great part of knowledge and wisdom."
It is in this latter class that the work of Nicholson falls, and if we apply Sir Joshua Reynolds' dictum to his work, we shall find that he was one of those who, knowing his subject from Alpha to Omega, set down just so much of it as was necessary to realise the effect at which he aimed. He was an undoubted master of technique, whether in oil, water-colour, or with the pencil his pencil drawings are among some of the very best that have ever been accomplished ,and therefore they had that certainty of touch which makes his work so very convincing.
Take, for instance, that large oil, " The Mersey" (and perhaps for calling it this I shall be taken to task, for was it not called " The Pool" in the sale catalogue?) notice how beautifully subtle it is, and with what largeness the whole steno is treated. How delightfully suggestive, and yet how complete. The sun struggling to break through the vapaurous sky, and just striking the water on the horizon. Notice, too, the way in which the barges are grouped round the liner; how loosely they are put in, and yet how well they fall into their place. It is a masterpiece of generalisation, and if Nicholson had done nothing else, this is quite sufficient to rank him among the foremost painters of his day.
There are, of course, many others which space at the moment forbids me to mention, though I hope at some future time to write about them. In the meantime I would ask all those who take a right delight in Art to visit the collection it is open, I understand, every afternoon between 2-30 and 4-30 and there they will find much that will interest them.
F. L. [Frederick Leach]