John Miller Nicholson (1840-1913) was a Manx born artist whose paintings most famously depict scenes from Miller Nicholson's own life on the island as well as his travels further afield in Italy. He painted scenes from nature, busy urban environments and recognisable landmarks on and off the island in both the Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionistic style.
Following part one of our interview with the Hon. Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, part two sees the Minister speak about the artist's contemporaries such as fellow artist, J. M. W. Turner and celebrated Manx poet, T.E. Brown. Mister Quayle speaks emphatically about the need for John Miller Nicholson to have more recognition for the great painter that he was.
You can see many John Miller Nicholson paintings in the main gallery of the Manx Museum in Douglas. Visit Manx National Heritage for more information.
There wasn’t the appreciation of one of our own at that time really and I think a gallery for a John Miller Nicholson collection would be a fantastic way of shouting out that the Isle of Man has had the outstanding artist living amongst us that didn’t get the recognition they should. That’s one way of giving him the credit for being the genius that he was. He should have been more widely recognised. It’s a great tragedy. The only plus point is to me personally on limited means can afford to have some of his paintings of which I take great pleasure and delight from. I’ve got one of the old Douglas iron pier which is a real detailed one and I’ve got the fishing boats in Peel Harbour where the road out to the castle hasn’t been built. You’ve got the herring fleet in there and if you remember the Manx herring fleet was famous for their ruddy brown sail which I believe they put a certain type of wood bark in the water and that’s there in the painting. Because it’s Pre-Raphaelite, the detail is phenomenal. So yes, in a way it’s like early photographs because it shows you what happened at that time. For some people who maybe be not into their art as much as me, that alone will impress them. For those who like their art a little bit more or like the Impressionistic style, the atmosphere he creates and the way he was able to paint colour in the countryside.
He liked Turner. Turner was a painter that he greatly admired and I think personally he was up there with Turner. If we look at certain eras in history we tend to find clusters of greatness. Mozart, Beethoven… If you look at the Isle of Man in the Nineteenth Century, John Miller Nicholson and T.E. Brown were good friends and they were in the same circle. Now, T.E. Brown has got the recognition as an outstanding poet, absolutely quite rightly so, ‘The beauty of the thing when childer play’ Betsy Lee that’s a poem to me that can hold its own anywhere. T.E. Brown has got the recognition in the eyes of the Manx people for that poem but we haven’t done the same for John Miller Nicholson, who in my opinion, was great if not greater than T.E. Brown in his genre of art compared with T.E. Brown’s poetry because I really rate John Miller Nicholson.
I’d like to see a gallery and funnily enough this was tried soon after his death, he died in 1913. Because he was so shy, he hid his light under a bushel. John Miller Nicholson did that and he was very fussy, if he didn’t like you or whatever he wouldn’t sell his painting to you even when he was offered good money for some of his paintings. A bit of an awkward character, I suppose but sometimes you’ve got to be a bit awkward to be that sort of genius that sets you apart from the run of the mill.
There are some modern painters that I’ve got in my collection. I’ve got a Norman Sayle, Tony Onley who was born in the north of the island and went to Canada. He died in a plane crash. I met him, he did an exhibition at Tynwald Mills and I bought his painting of old Ballaugh Church and he really had caught the atmosphere there. Not quite up to the standard of Miller Nicholson but really thought he was able to paint atmospherically. Svetlana Cameron, I think her portrait work is outstanding and she’s working on a piece for me at the moment.
Maybe when I’m no longer Chief Minister and I have a life I’ll be able to work with others to try and raise that profile. Having said that, I’ve got a modern painting outside this office which works for me. I don’t normally buy them but that’s what the majority of people will go for now. Buying squiggles on a canvas and interpreting it as something doesn’t normally float my boat but that is where the real money is at the moment. At this moment in time, the sort of John Miller Nicholson style isn’t in vogue necessarily but it should be. If you look at fashions sometimes they come around full circle and I think that the people of the Isle of Man and further afield will benefit from a greater exposure to the works of John Miller Nicholson.
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.
If you'd like to read up more about John Miller Nicholson then a great resource to look to is the Isle of Man Notebook here.