Date made: 1879
Artist: Nicholson, John Miller
Description: John Miller Nicholson’s self-portrait is an outstanding example of the quality of his draughtsmanship and his skill in drawing. The apparently simple sepia pen and ink sketch looks like an engraved print and highlights how well his drawings reproduced as print illustrations. His expression suggests a nervous and apprehensive individual, leaning back away from the viewer.
Dated 1879, the portrait was produced before Nicholson’s momentous trip to Venice, but at the same time as his watercolour of Douglas Head and Lighthouse. Both show his precise and meticulous skill in capturing fine detail. In his portrait this is particularly well observed in the detail of his bushy side whiskers and curling moustache and beard.
Nicholson was thirty nine when he produced this portrait, relatively early in his artistic career. Later descriptions of him talk of his almost pathological shyness and the fact that he would have achieved far greater artistic fame if he had had the confidence to promote himself. However, Nicholson did exhibit in the London galleries and knew personally the leading art critic, John Ruskin, on whose advice he travelled to Venice – not quite the activities of a pathologically shy individual.
Nicholson’s treatment of his hair and the shaded background create a halo-like effect perhaps reminiscent of a biblical character or one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood such as William Morris. The pose is similar to self-portraits by the leading Romantic of the period, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. One may speculate as to whether Nicholson, consciously or unconsciously, wished to emulate his artistic peers in his own self-portrait.
Materials: ink on paper
Object name: drawing
Collection: Art Collection
ID number: 1954-2501/107
Subject tags : portrait