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Francis Nicholson and the Lure of the Picturesque

Saturday 17 May to Sunday 15 June

Free Entry: 10.00am to 5pm, daily

Meet the Curator: Saturday 17 May, 12 noon to 3pm, with music by harpist Elisabeth Westhead, for 30 minutes at 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm

Curator Lecture and Tour: Sunday 1 June, at 2pm

Explore the rise of watercolour painting and printmaking through the pioneering works of Francis Nicholson (1753-1844), who was born in Pickering on the edge of the North York Moors. The exhibition - curated by Professor Gordon Bell - presents a selection of Nicholson's Yorkshire paintings and prints completed between 1790 and 1830, the 'Golden Age' of British watercolours.

Francis Nicholson 

Francis Nicholson was born in Pickering and married in the neighbouring town of Malton, on the edge of the North York Moors.

Hailed by his contemporaries as the “Father of Watercolour Painting”, Nicholson established his first studio in Whitby before moving first to Knaresborough and then, in 1798, to Ripon.

The remaining years of a distinguished career were spent in London, where he became an influential drawing master and a founding member of the Society of Painters in Watercolours. He was a pioneer in the newly discovered art of lithography, which was particularly well suited to making multiple images of views in watercolours. Nicholson also published one of the first manuals on ‘Drawing and Painting Landscape from Nature in Water Colours’.

This was an age of great excitement and change in artistic circles. Nicholson’s career encompassed the founding of the Royal Academy, the first public ‘Picture Gallery’, the founding of the National Gallery, and the Inaugural Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Watercolours, of which he was later its President.

It was also a period when the leisured and the wealthy developed an appetite for exploring and recording the ‘interior’ of Britain beyond the confines of the ‘Metropolis’ of London. Before the advent of photography and the development of the railway, artists were the main means of providing pictures of the wider country. Many prominent artists travelled to far flung parts – notably the West Country, Wales, the Lake District and Scotland – and Nicholson’s forté was in portraying the romantic scenery of his native Yorkshire, especially around Scarborough, Whitby, Ripon and York.

Francis Nicholson was a witty, genial, and considerate man, who enjoyed fishing, music, visits to the theatre and building organs. He was also a devoted family man with two daughters, a son and a nephew, all of whom were to become his pupils – all subsequently became artists too.