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The old fish market and Douglas harbour

Date made: 1899

Artist: Nicholson, John Miller

Description: The Old Fish Market and Douglas Harbour, John Miller Nicholson (1899)

Large oil on canvas showing the busy vibrant scene witnessed daily by Nicholson on the North Quay. He had a fascination with the movement and energy of Douglas, and spent his whole life trying to capture the essence of the town.

John Miller Nicholson is often described as the Island’s greatest painter, with comparisons to Turner frequently cited. It is said that he is also the greatest British Impressionist that people have never heard of. He was an extremely talented artist, but also an exceptionally shy man. Had it not been for his aversion to public attention and his non-commercial attitude, he would have been amongst the most widely acclaimed of the British Victorian painters.

John Miller Nicholson spent most of his life living and working in Douglas, obsessively recording the world and people around him with detailed sketches and later with a small hand held camera. He was entirely self-taught and spent a lifetime perfecting his art.

John Ruskin regarded Nicholson's works so highly that he purchased a number of pencil sketches at £5 each and gave them to art galleries in various parts of Britain for their permanent collections. In 1880 Ruskin wrote to Nicholson, firmly but constructively criticising his work.

He said, ' ... you are cramped and chilled by Isle of Manishness - you ought to take knapsack on shoulder - grey paper book - half a dozen colours and a bit of chalk - and so walk to Naples and back'.

In 1882 he followed his advice and travelled to Italy, intending to spend three months studying architecture and the Old Masters. But it was reported that he so disliked the country, that he returned six weeks later. He had, though, sketched profusely on his travels and back in the Island painted a number of large oils of Verona and Venice. The style of his work had become increasingly impressionistic, and a clear distinction can be seen between his pre and post-Italian pieces. He exhibited two of the oil paintings of Venice in London and demand for his pictures grew after they were highly praised by the critics. This adulation so embarrassed Nicholson, whose shyness increased with age, that he ceased exhibiting anywhere other than the Isle of Man. He continued to develop his impressionistic style for the rest of his career.

The Old Fish Market is a fantastic example of his impressionistic work, with details suppressed but with definite values given to light, shade, colour, composition and atmosphere. It reflects his desire to capture the movement and energy of the people he saw in Douglas.

Measurements: unframed artwork: 72 cm x 98 cm

Materials: oil on canvas

Object name: painting

Collection: Art Collection

ID number: 1954-2501/047

Subject tags : Isle of Man


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