'Model contemplating her day off' might be an alternative title for 'Rosy of Winchelsea'; the sitter is Rosemary 'Rosy' Craig (1894-1976), granddaughter of the celebrated actress Ellen Terry who had a home at Tower Cottage, Winchelsea, from 1896 until circa 1902. William Nicholson and his family spent a holiday here in 1901 which resulted in two works shown with the International Society in October that year: a full-length portrait of a child in the style of Whistler for which Rosy was the model, Rosemary (fig. 1. present location unknown) and Winchelsea (sold Phillips, 28 June 1982, lot 22) which is reprised in the landscape background to the present work.
Rosy was the eldest child of Edward Gordon Craig, the stage designer, and his first wife, May Gibson. For a brief period in the 1890s Craig, Nicholson and James Pryde (Nicholson's brother-in-law and the other half of Beggarstaff Brothers) had been close friends and worked together, stimulating new ideas on the theatre, graphic design and woodcuts. Their families had also been close, but by 1901 Gordon Craig had separated from his wife and had a second family, while the Nicholsons remained friendly with May Craig and the four children. Rosy was the same age as Nicholson's eldest child Ben and there is an unfinished portrait of Ben (private collection) which probably predates Rosemary and may be of the same dimensions. Rosemary was much admired by the critics when shown in 1901, particularly the 'treatment of the soft, silky hair ...', (The Pall Mall Gazette, 22 October 1901) which is such a notable feature of the present work. In both works Rosy wears green: here a dress and in the full length portrait a cloak or coat. In the latter she is standing, gazing out of the portrait to someone 'off stage' who is no doubt encouraging her to keep still. In the present work she may well have chosen the pose herself, seated and with her back to the artist.
The unusual high view point of the landscape had already been seen in Nicholson's graphic work, but here at Winchelsea he found a landscape to match his imagination. Tower Cottage, 'a house built on the ivied wall of the ancient Tower Gate' as a friend described it, provided a splendid view out across the silted up estuary of the ancient port, with a glint of the sea on the horizon. To the right of Rosy can be seen the serpentine curve of the river with the line of the road below. The substantial house to her left lies on this road, with another tree-line road running towards the sea. All these features can be seen more clearly in Winchelsea.
Long before he had met Craig, Nicholson had been a great admirer of Ellen Terry and her partner, the actor manager Henry Irving, who were both major figures in the British theatre. There is a documented visit of Nicholson and his family to Ellen Terry at Smallhythe, near Tenterden (now the Ellen Terry Museum) in 1907.
Rosy did sit again to Nicholson, in 1901, with great success for La Petite Marchande (exhibited London, Royal Academy, The Art of William Nicholson, 2004, no. 6). On the occasion of her marriage in 1917 Nicholson presented her with a still life (sold Sotheby's, 14 March 2006, lot 7, Still life with White Freesias).