The Maltonian Web

The Maltonian Web - Biography

George Nicholson, a neglected painter

Bill Hubbard

Extract from The Dalesman, November 1989, pp.644-7
William Hubbard retraces a Dales journey made over 150 years ago by a little known Yorkshire artist born in Malton.

George Nicholson

THE Yorkshire artist George Nicholson, a painter in oils, water-colours, a lithographer and etcher, was born in Wheelgate, Malton in 1787 and died at the age of 91 at Filey in 1878. He, and his wife Hannah, and their elder son George William (aged 17), are buried in Old Malton churchyard where a tombstone remains above their grave. Nicholson was a prolific worker producing many thousands of drawings.

The drawings I refer to are from two collections - the York City Art Gallery and my own. Most of those in my possession measure roughly 12ins x 9ins and all are in pencil, though some are washed with a brown mono-colour. The majority are numbered and all are dated between May 8th and 19th, 1822. It is evident that Nicholson went on a tour during these dates and, following the sequence of the numbers, it is possible to reconstruct the itinerary which he followed.

From what follows it will be evident that many numbers are missing. The principal purpose of this articlp is to draw attention to Nicholson as a north country artist of note and also hope that readers may be able to put me touch with other examples of his work, or may have documents, letters, etc, relating to the Nicholson family to provide additional information for a full-scale biography on which I am working.

Nicholson was a gifted topographical artist and came from an artistic family. His uncle, Francis Nicholson, 1753-1844, was known in his day as the "Father of Watercolour Painters". In 1805 he helped to establish the first exhibition of watercolour painters, which opened to the public on 22nd April in London. Francis Nicholson's children, Mary Ann, Sophia and Arthur, were all competent artists. It is evident from his surviving sketchbooks that George Nicholson was a methodical man and it must be assumed that before undertaking a tour such as that of 1822 he would not only consult the appropriate maps but also work out distances so as to plan his overnight stays and pinpoint the main places of interest - abbeys, castles, mills and the like.

George Nicholson probably left his home in Malton early on the morning of May 7th going by coach to Ripon via York. The rest of his journey was made on horseback (hired) or on foot. The start of the tour is not known; the earliest drawings I have in my possession are dated 8th May 1833 and are numbered 5,12 and 14. They depict - in numerical order - "Mill at Fountains Abbey", "Interior of Fountains Abbey" and "West Entrance, Fountains Abbey". What is probably further drawing from this series is another "Interior of Fountains Abbey"; it is neither dated or numbered.

On May 11th he was at West Witton in Wensleydale where he made at least two drawings of a corn water mill (now demolished). No. 34 is a pencilled sketch while No. 35 is an etching, the original of which has not been located. It will be noted that there are twenty drawings missing in the series between Fountains Abbey and West Witton, with two days unaccounted for. His most likely route would seem to have been via Masham, East Witton and Middleham to take in Jervaulx Abbey and Middleham Castle.

From West Witton he moved on to Aysgarth whence he sketched the Upper and Lower Falls (Nos. 36 and 37): the date is still 11th May. That same day he moved on to West Burton where he sketched No. 42 "Mill at West Burton" (part of which still exists) and No. 43 "At West Burton, Bishopdale" (a thatched cottage near the footbridge not now identifiable).

Bainbridge 1822

May 12th was another busy day for near Askrigg he sketched Nos. 49 and 50 - two studies of Whitefell Force. At Bainbridge he sketched No. 64, a fine drawing made above the bridge, showing the Bain after a flood, with the upper mill to the left and the lower one just visible through the arch. It will be noted that 13 drawings are unaccounted for between Askrigg and Bainbridge.

Bolton Castle 1822

On May 13th he sketched Bolton Castle (No. 68). He subsequently moved on to Wensley where he made at least three sketches (Nos. 73-5), all of the lower corn water mill, which still exists though rebuilt. Etchings based on these drawings together with those of West Witton Mill were published in 1825.

On May 14th he visited Hardraw, making at least two drawings (Nos. 80 and 81) of the Force. That same day he sketched Aysgill Force (not numbered). The next drawing No. 90 is entitled lngleborough from near the road between Hawes and Ingleborough. "Wothwerth Cave" is the subject of two drawings numbered 91 and 93 respectively; the latter became a lithograph.

The following day George Nicholson sketched No. 103, "The Market Place at Settle", and No. 110 entitled "Hunt Pot, Ribblesdale". At this point he no longer numbers his drawings and for the rest of the itinerary we have to rely entirely on dates.

On May 16th he was at Malham where he made at least three sketches - all entitled "Malham Cove, Source of the Ouse". The next day he sketched a scene entitled "Near Malham" and on May 18th he was at Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale where he made at least five drawings, "Interior of Bolton Priory", "Cascades of Bolton Priory", "View of the Wharfe near Bolton Priory", "Bolton Bridge" and "Bolton Priory". On May 19th - the last day of his tour - he was still in the vicinity of Bolton Abbey where he made at least another five sketches; these are "Bolton Priory", "The Strid near Bolton Priory", "From the Inn, Bolton Priory", "View of the Wharfe near Bolton Priory" and "Bolton Abbey".

Housed in York City Art Gallery is a large book containing many of Nicholson's watercolours of various views of England. Seven of them relate to the area covered in this tour and may indeed constitute some of the "missing" sketches. They are "Near Askrigg, Yorkshire", "Hawes, Yorkshire", "Hundlepot near Ingleton, Yorkshire", "View of Wensleydale" and finally three views of "Malham, Yorkshire".