John Miller Nicholson (1840-1913) was a Manx born artist from Douglas. He is regarded as the most accomplished Manx Artist of his time, exhibiting his work at the Royal Academy in London.
As part of Culture Month for Year of Our Island the Arts Council are proud to release a two part interview with the Hon. Chief Minister, Howard Quayle. We were very excited to chat to Mr. Quayle as he is the proud owner of eleven paintings by the nineteenth-century painter, five of which are hung in his office at Tynwald.
In part one of our interview, Mr. Quayle talks about how he first encountered Miller Nicholson, why he was drawn to the painter and gives a brief history of the painter’s life and key influences. Mr. Quayle explains how Miller Nicholson’s work can be categorised into two key styles which reflect his early and later life. His early work was in the very detailed Pre-Raphaelite style whereas after a trip to Italy in the 1880s his work became much more Impressionistic and atmospheric.
I suppose it would be thirty years ago that I first came across Miller Nicholson. I started collecting when I was about nineteen and twenty. I’d just left my job in the Treasury and had gone onto the private sector with a substantial pay increase. The difference between the two salaries I would put into something to remember the change and I bought an EC Quayle painting and I started collecting then. I sort of built my way up as I could afford and I came across a small seven by three and a half inches watercolour by Miller Nicholson. I had it cleaned and down at Cross Four Ways there was a dub that the artists used to go down to and paint and when you see it you see he was using individual horse hair for some of his work. The atmosphere and the quality, I realised then that he was the master and sadly most other artists that I see pale into insignificance compared with him. I didn’t necessarily have the funds to collect his work in those days there was a couple of really wealthy people that were throwing money at it and as I say I could but admire his work and then slowly over the years I’ve built up a modest collection.
His style: I think as we go through life our taste buds maybe change. What I liked first about Miller Nicholson was his Pre-Raphaelite style of detail. I’m a very detail, facts and figures sort of person. There’s one of the fishing fleet in Peel Harbour and when you look at the masts, the straight lines, he never used a ruler, you know, he was phenomenal. And then as my taste buds, you could argue, matured or changed slightly, he became more Impressionistic in his style. It was the atmosphere. I suppose if I was to nail my colours to the mast about why John Miller Nicholson is so special it’s the way he put atmosphere into his paintings.
In 1882, he was lucky to have a good friend in John Ruskin who was the arts and crafts, mister big I suppose really, a bit of an artist himself. He persuaded [John Miller Nicholson] to go to Italy to tour the top artists to look at the various styles of work. Behind me are two 1875 paintings. John Ruskin used to buy some of his best works in the 1870s and take them off to London galleries and I think they were sold for five guineas or something. That was his real quality work from his Pre-Raphaelite days. The detail is phenomenally good. And I’m delighted that two of them I’ve got, they came back from London, I bought them at auction. After 1882 he moved into the more Impressionist style. I wasn’t around in 1882 but I’m told that it was because of that trip to Italy that he saw different styles and decided that he was going to alter his style to the more Impressionist, and he did. I’ve got two paintings of his work in the Impressionist style and wow they really are fantastic! I’m glad and honoured to have them in my collection.
To me there is no artist living, or pre, to paint on the Isle of Man who can hold a candle to John Miller Nicholson. That’s one of my biggest regrets is that John Miller Nicholson has not had the recognition that he deserved. He was a painfully shy man. I think when he painted canvasses for some of the shows at the Gaiety and they wanted him to come on stage and applaud him for his backdrop scenery work that he painted. He was so shy he went out the side door. Lady Loch, who’d spotted his work and introduced him to John Ruskin, got him exhibited at the Royal Academy but he was painfully shy, he just didn’t like crowds and I’m absolutely convinced that if he’d been more forthcoming in meeting people and speaking to them, explaining his work and going away to effectively help sell it when it was in a gallery then John Miller Nicholson would have been one of Britain, the UK and the world’s foremost painters because the quality is absolutely phenomenal.
The Hon Howard Quayle MHK is currently a Member of the House of Keys 2011-date; Chief Minister 2016-date; Member of the Tynwald Ceremony Arrangements Committee (eo) 2016-date; Member of the CPA Isle of Man Branch Executive Committee (Vice Branch President eo) 2016-date
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