Tue. Feb 20th, 2024

Recreating the Color Palette of Winifred Nicholson

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Winifred Nicholson was a relentless investigator of color, a painter of flowers, figures and landscapes, and an experimental summary artist. Her work impressed many, together with her husband of ten years, Ben Nicholson, his father William Nicholson, Paul Nash, in addition to Ivon Hitchens, and Christopher Wooden. In exploring the color relationships seen in three notable works from her profession, Cyclamen and Primula (1923), Flowers On A Windowsill (1945-6), and Easter Monday (1950), we’re capable of see in motion her vehement perception within the gentle giving properties of Violet and Magenta, and her capacity to let pure yellows sing towards dusty hues of Umbers and Violet Greys.


Winifred Nicholson
© Trustees of Winifred Nicholson


Winifred Nicholson was born in Oxford in 1893, the primary little one of Charles Henry Roberts, a Liberal Get together politician who was as soon as Beneath-Secretary of State for India, and Woman Cecilia Maude Roberts, daughter of the politician George Howard, ninth Earl of Carlisle, and the activist Rosalind Howard. Winifred grew up in an inventive and liberal-minded family, with each of her dad and mom being eager painters; though her mom prioritised parenthood over portray as quickly as she had Winifred (born Rosa Winifred Roberts). Her sister Christina Henrietta adopted in 1895, and in 1900 her brother Wilfrid Hubert Wace was born.

Her grandfather George Howard was a buddy of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and picked up and commissioned a variety of their works. Howard himself was a eager painter, taking ‘[…]pleasure in painting the things he saw around him’ (as written by A Current Day Painter in an introduction to an exhibition of George Howard’s works, displayed in 1954; the current day painter is broadly regarded as Winifred Nicholson). This pleasure in portray extraordinary issues clearly influenced the younger Winifred in the course of the portray classes she was given by her grandfather, as nearly all of Winifred Nicholson’s work all through her life depict flowers, members of the family, and native scenes.



Nonetheless, inside Winifred’s mild compositions are deeply contemplative musings on color, form, and texture. She was a grasp of the restricted palette, which allowed her to unleash the ability of sure colors and provides respiratory house to extra muted hues. Not solely this however she scrutinised form; distilling and simplifying the triangles and curves that make up a pot of flowers wrapped in tissue paper, to some extent the place the extraordinary turns into poetic, revealing pictorial truths that sing songs of awe and emotion.

Certainly, when wanting again to her time learning underneath Byam Shaw in 1911, who questioned the rainbow-like spectrum of colors she used to color a shell, she wrote, ‘I was seeing colours in the iridescence that he did not see – and I have been seeing them ever since, or attempting to because colours hide, they will only show themselves under the right conditions, and only to certain eyes at certain times.’

Cyclamen and Primula was painted round 1922-23 whereas residing within the Italian Swiss Alps. Winifred married the artist Ben Nicholson in 1920, and having honeymooned in Italy, they then spent the primary three winters of their married life there. Winifred painted Cyclamen and Primula shortly earlier than their return to the UK, to settle in Cumberland.


Mughetti, c.1921-2
Winifred Nicholson
Oil and pencil on board
53.3 x 56.5 cm | 21 x 22¼ in
© Trustees of Winifred Nicholson
Typically regarded as being a breakthrough portray for Winifred Nicholson throughout this experimental interval of her portray profession.


The couple each considered the primary three years of their marriage as being an extremely experimental and fruitful time for his or her portray. In 1973, Winifred wrote of the collection of work that included Cyclamen and Primula: ‘Ben had given me a pot of lilies of the valley – Mughetti – in a tissue paper wrapper – this I stood on the window sill – behind was the azure blue, Mountain, Lake, Sky, all there – and the tissue paper wrapper held the secret of the universe. That picture painted itself, and after that, the same theme painted itself on that window sill, in cyclamen, primula or cineraria – sunlight on leaves, and sunlight shining transparent through a lens and through the mystery of tissue paper … I have often wished for another painting spell like that, but never had one.’


Cyclamen and Primula, c.1923
Oil on board, 50 x 55 cm | 20 x 22 in.
Kettle’s Yard, © Trustees of Winifred Nicholson


The portray’s majestic composition of robust triangles, specifically of the tissue paper wrapping the vegetation and the mountains behind, is juxtaposed with an extremely muted pastel palette throughout a lot of the portray with a heavy reliance on white. The blues and greys of the skies, mountains, and tissue paper are extremely close-toned, with simply sufficient distinction between the shapes. With out specific documentation of the precise colors Winifred Nicholson used to color Cyclamen and Primula, I’ve compiled an approximation of the colors I see within the portray:

Cobalt Blue, Indigo, French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, Primrose Yellow, Cobalt Inexperienced, Oxide Of Chromium, Uncooked Umber, Ivory Black, Titanium White.


Experimenting with not solely color mixes however the thickness of the applying of paint to copy observations fabricated from the portray Cyclamen and Primula.


The intelligent use of color in Cyclamen and Primula lies in how the yellows within the leaves of the Primula, and the pale blues within the tissue paper on the left, sing out. Nicholson does this with a deliberate placement of tonal distinction, transparency towards opacity, and heat towards cool.


Prime row: Pure Indigo adopted by Indigo and White mixes, and French Ultramarine and White mixes.
Second row: Uncooked Umber and White mixes, then with Indigo additionally added.
Center two rows: Explorations of yellows greens and pinks seen within the portray, utilizing Primrose Yellow, French Ultramarine, Cobalt Inexperienced, Alizarin Crimson, and Titanium White.
Backside two rows: Examples of soppy greys and putty hues made with Titanium White, Uncooked Umber, Oxide Of Chromium, and French Ultramarine.


The primary balancing act to notice is with using yellow within the Primula, and magenta within the Cyclamen. Winifred Nicholson usually talked of the ability of violets and magentas to each present a way of sunshine and permit yellows (specifically) to come back to life. In her 1944 essay Liberation Of Color, Winifred Nicholson wrote:

Yesterday I got down to decide a yellow bunch to position as a lamp on my desk in boring, wet climate. I picked Iceland poppies, marigolds, and yellow iris; my bunch wouldn’t inform yellow. I added sunflowers, canary pansies, buttercups, and dandelions; no yellower. I added to my butter-like mass, two eternal peas, magenta pink, and all my yellows broke into luminosity. Orange and gold and lemon and primrose every singing its observe.



This phenomenon is due to the ability of complementary colors, and the way yellow and violet resonate towards each other. When this resonance seems too harsh, utilizing magenta as an alternative of Violet can enable your yellows to nonetheless maintain their energy in a gentler palette of neighbouring colors.

The purity of the Naples Yellow (or Primrose Yellow) combined solely with Titanium White is positioned towards extra opaque, complicated green-greys, made by mixing an opaque inexperienced resembling Oxide Of Chromium with Uncooked Umber and White. The a number of pigments and the opacity of the inexperienced and white pigments used, block gentle, making these specific greens seem extra muted and earthy towards the translucent, light-filled yellow.



An identical method is employed with blues and pinks on the Cyclamen on the left. The luxurious, clear gentle blue of the tissue paper, a two-pigment mixture of French Ultramarine and White, seems pure and uncomplicated towards a darker, extra brooding burgundy color combined with a mix of Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, and White. The usage of a pure magenta color for the lighter petals of the Cyclamen pays tribute to Winifred’s view of the color being essentially the most ‘light giving (colour) after white.’


Element of Cyclamen and Primula


In stage phrases, you may think about the blue and yellow as the principle protagonists, with robust supporting roles from the greens and pinks. Holding all the pieces collectively are the mild heat Uncooked Umber and White mixes discovered on the pots and tissue paper closest to us – maybe the heat of which is mirrored from indoor warmth or gentle, and the cool blue greys exterior within the skies and mountains. And important to the sense of sunshine on this portray is after all the strip of intense darkish seen throughout the composition, maybe the sting of the window. This acts as an anchor, a needed distinction to carry the entire portray collectively and assure its visible influence.



When it comes to color, there’s a very clear and thought of use of heat and funky hues on this portray, creating a way of stability, energy and house – maybe a mirrored image of the energy of this creatively fertile and joyful time within the artist’s life.

On life with Ben, Winifred as soon as wrote:

‘All artists are unique and can only unite as complementaries, not as similarities… When Ben and I were happy each of us was unique, each different, and each giving creatively to the other one; not the same things, but the things one was glad and happy to receive.’

One senses an identical relationship between the Cyclamen and Primula within the portray.


A research wanting on the colors and brushmarks of Winifred Nicholson’s 1945-6 portray Flowers On A Windowsill


Winifred Nicholson painted Flowers On A Windowsill twelve years after Cyclamen and Primula. Within the interim, her marriage to Ben Nicholson had disintegrated, with Ben transferring out of the household dwelling to dwell with the sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Regardless of the top of the wedding, Ben and Winifred continued their dialogue about portray by means of letters and conversations for the remainder of their lives. Within the years following the top of the wedding, Winifred moved a number of instances, to the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and Paris, the place she turned a agency buddy of the summary painter Piet Mondrian. Beneath the identify Winifred Dacre she additionally started to exhibit summary works with the Seven And 5 Society, which additionally included Ben Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens, Barbara Hepworth, John Piper and Henry Moore, amongst others. At this specific stage of Winifred’s life, she was residing together with her dad and mom at Boothby, Cumberland.


Palette impressed by Flowers on a Windowsill
Prime three rows: Blues and Blue-Greys mixes utilizing Titanium White, Cobalt Blue, Indigo, and Ivory Black.
Fourth row: Reds and Pinks made with Cadmium Purple, Manganese Violet and Titanium White.
Fifth row: Primrose Yellow, Yellow Ochre mixes, with a few inexperienced swatches made with Primrose Yellow and Cobalt Blue Hue.
Backside row: Putty and Pastel Gray mixes made with Uncooked Umber, Titanium White, Indigo, and Yellow Ochre.


When evaluating Cyclamen and Primula with Flowers On A Windowsill, it’s simple to see a wilder brushstroke within the sky and a looser composition, as you may count on from a extra skilled painter. Nonetheless, the identical simplification of types and cautious placement of color attribute of Winifred Nicholson’s work is clearly evident.

Colors: Cadmium Purple, Cobalt Blue Hue, Primrose Yellow, Titanium White, Manganese Violet, Yellow Ochre, Uncooked Umber, Indigo



On this portray, the gritty blue-greys of the sky, vase, and foreground resonate with the orangey crimson of the Cadmium Purple used for the poppies, and it’s a stark distinction of color that enables the crimson to burst forth. Within the sky, Winifred has painted all kinds of shades of mid to gentle blue-grey, utilizing Indigo for the murkier shades on the prime of the portray, and Cobalt Blue with white and a contact of Ivory Black to cut back the saturation within the water. I believe these blue greys may additionally have been rubbed thinly onto the entire substrate as a floor earlier than portray the image, because it seems to affect the thinner passages of yellow within the sand behind the flowers. This vivid yellow would have been made with Cadmium yellow combined with a contact of Yellow Ochre. Though it seems virtually luminous in its brightness, it nonetheless maintains concord throughout the context of the image, and because of this the yellow must be harnessed with the earthy qualities of Yellow Ochre.


My palette after making research of Flowers On A Windowsill


The Blue within the flowers is similar to the Blue within the sea, a Cobalt Blue and White combine, positioned merely, a single stroke of the comb for every petal, which provides to the dancing motion of the portray, each within the flowers and the breeze exterior. Violet is combined with a contact of Cadmium Purple to embellish the vase, and the aspect of the window body is a warmed gray to the hues within the background, combined with Uncooked Umber and a contact of Ivory Black and plenty of White. This heat gray helps to bridge the hole between the yellow and the blues.



Flowers On A Window Sill, c. 1945-6
Winifred Nicholson
Oil on board, 49.5 x 46.5 cm | 19.5 x 18.3 in.
Authorities Artwork Assortment, © Trustees of Winifred Nicholson


Within the 12 months earlier than portray Flowers On A Windowsill, Winifred Nicholson was commissioned to jot down her seminal essay Liberation Of Color for the World Assessment. In it, she argued for the significance of color in permitting the post-war world to understand the pure world with a renewed imaginative and prescient:

I’ve constructed for you the scaffolding of the artist’s science, upon which the brand new color artwork is being constructed in all places, even within the fiery crucible of struggle, as a result of color is as a lot a necessity for man as freedom.


Easter Monday, c.1950
Winifred NIcholson
Oil on panel, 68.5 c 68.5 cm | 27 x 27 in.
Tullie Home Museum and Artwork Gallery, © Trustees of Winifred Nicholson


Easter Monday depicts an association of daffodils on a cool breezy morning, and maybe is essentially the most mild and radiant portray of the three. There’s a clearly outlined change of temperature between the within and out of doors. Inside is positively glowing, the sunshine supply seeming to be the daffodils themselves. Surrounding this vivid shimmering glow is the body of the window, with the cool violet hues of the view exterior framing the flowers, and permitting the artist to position her vivid yellows instantly beside their muted pastel complementary, including to the yellow depth.


Exploring color mixes impressed by Winifred Nicholson’s Easter Monday.


Supporting the flowers is an array of very gentle beige hues, created by mixing Yellow Ochre, Uncooked Umber and White, creating a delicate, heat, comforting earthy hue that’s the basis of the portray. The stems of the flowers are combined with Uncooked Umber and a contact of Yellow Ochre, with one specific stem pointing as much as the brassy curtain rings, that add one other accent of saturated color (the curtains, by the way, are adorned with a sample designed by Ben Nicholson).

The cool Indigo-White combine that’s used to render the vase to the best of the flowers and the Cobalt Blue and White sample of the jug that holds the flowers assist to unify the portray and permit for a few of the cool hues of the surface, to come back into the room. There’s an beautiful array of soppy mixes within the view exterior; combos of Indigo, Violet, White and Cobalt Blue, combined meticulously to attain a slender tonal vary whereas nonetheless being sufficiently structured. Of the portray, Mary Sorrell wrote in 1954:

‘As one looks, the surface begins to shimmer, and the enchanted vision the artist has laid over her canvas whispers its melody to the eyes and ears of the silent eavesdropper. All Winifred Nicholson’s work possess this whispering high quality that wafts creativeness over realism, and impregnates the air with daydreams. However these desires should not illusions, nor, in actual fact, do they incantate some magic system, except or not it’s the iridescent glow that’s to be present in virtually each portray, and which initiatives its gentle rays round and into the center of the work. This searching for for gentle, such because the internal gentle that shines by means of darkness (versus the dazzling results of everlasting gentle sought by the Impressionists), is the supply of inspiration that almost all reveals itself in her photos.’


Additional Perception

In researching for this text, I contacted Jovan Nicholson, an unbiased curator and grandson of Winifred Nicholson, to ask if he had any data relating to the colors that his grandmother labored with. Jovan very kindly shared the contents of a purchasing listing that his grandmother had written in 1980 (the 12 months earlier than she died), requesting the next colors:

‘I want the makers that I list – the colours are different in the different makers’.

Sevres Inexperienced
Sevres Blue
Monestial Blue
Geranium Lake
Scarlet Lake
Crimson Lake
Turquoise Blue
Cobalt (written in one other hand)
Mais Yellow

Winsor and Newton:
Zink White
Cobalt Violet, 3 shades’

She writes ‘I especially want the Turquoise Blue, Cobalt Pale’.

Within the ultimate 5 years of her life, Winifred Nicholson labored on a collection that is called The Prismatic Work. In 1975 she met the physicist Glen Schaefer who gave her a prism that enabled her to see a spectrum of rainbow colors on the sides of each object that she glanced by means of the prism. This new approach of wanting on the world poured into her work, which turned much more light-filled and tinged with the entire spectrum of rainbow color on the edges of shapes inside a lot of her compositions. In a letter to Glen Schaefer in 1976, Winifred wrote, ‘Thank you also for your help and advice. Light is obviously the source of form and substance (metaphysical light and its terrestrial expression – or reflection I should say), so why have all artists concentrated their eyesight on form and shape., and taken light and colour light as the second thought, to be applied when the form has been materialised? Why? So why not do the opposite now?’ The rainbow colors widened the palettes that she labored with for every portray, but she was capable of proceed to assist these vivid hues with harmonious muted mixes that allowed the work to carry their attract and sense of mysticism.


Geometric Curtain, c.1980
Winifred Nicholson
Oil on canvas
61 x 61 cm | 24 x 24 in
Photograph credit score: Castlegate Home Gallery
© Trustees of Winifred Nicholson


In working with this tropical palette of teals, vivid greens and firey reds and yellows, I might admire the sheer pleasure that may very well be gleaned from the expertise of portray. The Cobalt Blue and Cobalt Violet alongside Cadmium Yellow Deep, specifically, supply starkly opposing colors, not solely of their hue however of their transparency. Inside these work, Winifred Nicholson was not solely capable of scrutinise the colors she might see on the fringe of types, however she might use them to interpret the drama she noticed inside her observations. Inside these late work, she wallowed within the alchemy of placing intensely sizzling hues towards icy cool ones, translucency towards opacity, with exhausting traces traversing over gentle blended areas of transitional color.



Exploring the mixes of colors discovered on Winifred Nicholson’s artwork materials purchasing listing within the Nineteen Eighties. The research relies on a element from the portray Prismatic 5


It’s unattainable to completely articulate the ability of Winifred Nicholson’s works and why they proceed to be as beguiling as they have been the day they have been painted. They rejoice color and painting the artist’s unending exploration into the way to make colors sing, and the way to create visible symphonies, each fortissimo and pianissimo. The appliance of paint is all the time scintillating, passages scraped on towards beneficiant juicy brushstrokes, and an understanding of how gentle passes by means of the clearest of clear mixes but stops useless at muddier opaque hues. A way of stability permeates by means of a lot of Winifred Nicholson’s work, and it’s this profitable strolling of a tightrope between complementary colors, between gentle and darkish, clear and opaque, that unleashes the poetry and mastery of her work.




Additional Studying

Color Mixing: Heat Color Palettes for Portray in Autumn

Recreating the Color Palette of Georgia O’Keeffe

What’s Darkish Yellowing?

The Story of Manganese Violet


Store Oil Portray on jacksonsart.com


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