Winifred Nicholson was a respected colourist who painted still life and landscapes in a distinctly impressionistic style. In 1920 she married Ben Nicholson and they worked alongside each other in Italy, France, Cumbria and Cornwall, and spent their winters in the Italian-Swiss Alps. She had a lifelong fascination for rainbow and spectrum colours and in the 1970s made particularly innovative use of colour in her paintings.
Winifred was born Rosa Winifred Roberts in Oxford in 1893. Her parents were Charles Henry Roberts, Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and Lady Cecilia Maude Roberts and her grandfather was the painter George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle. Her grandmother, Rosalind Howard, the Countess of Carlisle, was actively involved in several movements, including the Liberal Party, women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. Winifred spent her childhood spent between Cumberland, Yorkshire and London. From 1912 she attended the Byam Shaw School of Art in London and continued to study there during the First World War, exhibiting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions in 1914 and 1916. In 1920 Winifred met artist Ben Nicholson in Oxford, and they travelled and painted together in Devon and Cornwall. They married in London that year and honeymooned in Italy before buying a Villa Capriccio, Castagnola, above Lake Lugano in the Italian Swiss Alps. Together they spent each winter at Villa Capriccio, returning, via Paris, to London and Cumberland for the summers. In 1922 Winifred exhibited with the London Group, and during her lifetime went on to exhibit in over 200 of their group exhibitions. In 1923 Winifred exhibited with her husband at the Wm. B. Paterson Gallery, London. In 1925 she was elected a member of the Seven and Five Society, and exhibited with all their remaining exhibitions until its closure in 1935. 1927 saw her first solo exhibition, at the Beaux Arts Gallery, London, which ran concurrently with an exhibition of works by Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood, and the potter William Staite Murray. In 1932, after her separation from Ben Nicholson, Winifred moved with her children to Par, Cornwall, and then to Paris, where she lived at 48 Quai d’Auteuil. While living in Paris she met many of the artists living there, including Piet Mondrian, Jean Hélion, Naum Gabo, Hans Hartung, Alberto Giacometti, Constantin Brancusi, Cesar Domela, Alexander Calder, Wassily Kandinsky, Hans Erni and Jean Arp. During this time she began to make her own abstract paintings, and in 1934 she exhibited eight pictures at the XIX Venice Biennale. In 1975 Winifred met the physicist Glen Schaefer who gives her some prisms, which inspired her to begin painting prismatic pictures. In October of that year she held a solo exhibition of her abstract works, mostly from the 1930’s, titled An Unknown Aspect of Winifred Nicholson at Crane Kalman Gallery, London, from which the Tate Gallery purchased two works, Quarante-Huite Quai d’Auteuil, and Moonlight and Lamplight. In 1976 Winifred held a solo exhibition at LYC Museum and Art Gallery, and Flower Tales, a book of stories that flowers tell by Winifred is published by LYC Press in a limited edition of 500 with colour illustrations of her flower paintings. September 1979 saw a Scottish Arts Council Retrospective exhibition of 72 pictures. Winifred died in 1981, the same year her Recent Paintings exhibition opened at Crane Kalman Gallery, London, which was the very first showing of her prismatic pictures. The Tate Gallery held a retrospective of her work in 1987.