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    Sale 5389

    20th Century British Art

    16 July 2008, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 19

    Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)

    The Ruined Castle

    Price Realised  


    Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)
    The Ruined Castle
    signed with initials and inscribed 'W.N. for H.N.' (lower right)
    oil on canvas-board
    16 x 13 in. (41.9 x 34.3 cm.)
    Painted circa 1924.
    This work is sold with a signed and illustrated letter from William Nicholson.

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    The location is as yet unidentified: a coastal fortification possibly on the west coast near the Anglo-Scottish border, or further north, is thought to be the subject. The remains of a crenellated four-storey tower in what appears to be red-brown sandstone, contrasting with the grey boulders on the beach and separated by a strip of sand, dominates the scene. Despite the grey, overcast sky, the use of white behind the tower suggests sunlight reflecting off the sea somewhere in the distance, while the cold east wind sends the seagulls spiralling high towards the ruined battlements. Nicholson had only recently left Rottingdean on the Sussex coast where he had painted many seascapes over the years, and the play of light reflected off the sea had always appealed to him.
    The spontaneity of the paintwork, with the use of impasto and some sgraffito, suggests the artist huddled down among the boulders to capture the scene. There is supporting evidence in the lower centre left section of the picture indicating that the painting was packed away before the paint had completely dried.
    It is an unusual subject for Nicholson and the dedication suggests that either the day or the location had a special meaning for the recipient. No supporting documentation has been found, but the identity of Helen Kennedy North (1889-1975) is proposed for H.N.
    In 1947 this work was among four Nicholsons sold at Christie's from the estate of late W.J.R.Turner (1889-1946), a friend of Nicholson and Robert Graves. Also included was another Nicholson painting with the dedication 'To Helen'. Born and brought up in Scotland, Helen Kennedy was deeply involved in the folk dance revival. She married Stanley North in 1920 and they took the name of Kennedy North. Under the byline S.K.N., her husband wrote a monograph on William Nicholson published in June 1923 in Benn's Contemporary British Artists series, and the following month published an article on him in Design. The couple became close friends of the artist and his wife Edie. In July 1924 Nicholson travelled from London to Inverness for a portrait commission and it is suggested that The Ruined Castle dates from this trip. It is thought that the painting was acquired from Helen by a mutual friend, the writer W.J.Turner, either in the early 1930s when her marriage broke up, or in 1939 when she emigrated to South Africa.

    We are very grateful to Patricia Reed for providing the catalogue entry for this lot.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    with Ernest Hilton, Cambridge.
    Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 21 March 1947, lot 88.
    with Roland, Browse and Delbanco, London.
    Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 12 November 1965, lot 112.


    L. Browse, William Nicholson, London, 1956, p. 84, no. 311.


    London, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, Pictures by William Nicholson and Josef Herman, April - May, 1948, no. 42.
    London, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, Names to Remember, June - July 1948, no. 4.
    London, The Arts Council of Great Britain, British Romantic Paintings in the 20th Century, 1953, no. 38, as 'The Tower'.
    London, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, Paintings by William Nicholson and Desmond Lord Harmsworth, March - April 1954, no. 20.