Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)

The Cenotaph, The Morning of the Peace Procession

Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)
The Cenotaph, The Morning of the Peace Procession
signed 'Nicholson' (lower right) and indistinctly inscribed 'Cenotaph/(The morning/of the peace procession)' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
16 x 12¾ in. (40.6 x 32.4 cm.)
Painted in 1919.
with Beaux Arts Gallery, London.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 17 April 1953, lot 47.
Clifford Hall.
Acquired by F.B.C. Bravington by 1956.
with Marlborough Fine Art, London.
Acquired by Mark Birley by 1990.
L. Browse, William Nicholson, London, 1956, p. 67, no. 208.
Exhibition catalogue, William Nicholson, London, Browse & Darby, 1990, n.p., no. 15, illustrated.
P. Reed, William Nicholson: Catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings, London, 2011, p. 348, no. 409, illustrated.
London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Exhibition of Recent Paintings by William Nicholson, April - May 1927, no. 1, as 'The Cenotaph'.
Glasgow, Alex Reid & Lefevre, Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, 1928, no. 21.
Nottingham, Museum and Art Gallery, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, March - April 1933, no. 143.
London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, May - June 1933, no. 65.
Manchester, City Art Gallery, Platt Hall, Works by William Nicholson, June - July 1933, no. 30.
Scarborough, Public Library, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, August - September 1933, no. 57.
Folkestone, Public Art Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings and Lithographs by William Nicholson, October - November 1933, no. 16.
Belfast, Municipal Museum and Art Gallery, Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Prints by William Nicholson, February 1934, no. 24.
Lincoln, Usher Art Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings and Lithographs by William Nicholson, July - August 1934, no. 5.
Newark, Municipal Museum, Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, September - October 1934, no. 11.
London, Browse & Darby, William Nicholson, 1872-1949, March - April 1990, no. 15.
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
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Lot Essay

The Peace Procession of 19 July 1919 commemorated the official end of the Great War after the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty in June 1919. The day was declared a public holiday and Peace Processions took place throughout the UK, the Dominions and the British Empire. The largest was held in London where some 15,000 troops took part, with contingents from military and voluntary organisations in the UK and over 50 different countries. Two temporary structures were erected as saluting sites – a colonnaded pavilion at the head of the Mall in front of Queen Victoria’s statue where King George and Queen Mary stood with various dignitaries, and another in Whitehall to commemorate those who had died during the war. At the suggestion of the architect Edwin Lutyens this took the form of a cenotaph, or empty tomb. It is this white-painted wood and plaster structure that appears in Nicholson’s painting set against the dark background of the Foreign Office, grimy with soot like most London buildings at this date. The three steps at the base are covered with flowers, and the 33ft high pylon is crowned with an altar covered with the Union Jack and a wreath. Another wreath hangs on the north side with flags on the east side: the Union Jack between the Red and White Ensigns. The only inscription reads ‘The Glorious Dead’. It is early in the morning and there are few people about.

Nicholson had been commissioned by the Women’s Section of the Imperial War Museum to paint Nurses with the Royal Army Medical Corps Detachment Passing the Pylon to the Memory of the Dead in Whitehall. A stand was made available for the artist on the day but whether this provided him with the best view might have been difficult to ascertain until the event had taken place. It seems from contemporary photographs that the marching columns passed on the west side of the street while the foreground in Nicholson’s painting, the east side, was filled with spectators. Like so many people Nicholson found the day very difficult, his younger son Tony having been killed in action a few weeks before the end of the war, aged 21. Indeed it seems highly unlikely that Nicholson would ever have been able to complete the commission.

Correspondence in the Imperial War Museum charts the progress of the work. On 5 August Nicholson explained that he had begun the picture, but was on holiday until September. In an undated letter (late October/early November) from the South of France, written after his marriage to Edie Stewart-Wortley, he said that although ‘family affairs’ had made it impossible to finish he would ‘go straight ahead with it’ when he returned in March. In March 1920 further enquires were made regarding his progress as an exhibition at Crystal Palace was imminent. On 9 May Nicholson wrote that he was ‘still in Wales so have not been able to make any progress lately with the picture. When does the exhibition open?’ The reply came on 9 June and the project must have been abandoned at about this time.

Nicholson greatly admired Lutyens’ design for the Cenotaph and included the architect’s scale drawing in the second issue of The Owl (November 1919), the periodical he edited with his son-in-law Robert Graves. The temporary wooden structure had proved such an immediate and popular success that it was rebuilt in Portland stone and unveiled on Armistice Day, 11 November 1920.

We are very grateful to Patricia Reed for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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