arts and design

Phillida Nicholson obituary

My cousin, the artist Phillida Nicholson, who has died at the age of 96, was a talented landscape painter, printmaker and tapestry maker, and an intrepid traveller.

She was born in north Wales, and her lifelong home was a small cottage in the Clwydian mountains above the village of Bodfari, accessed by a farm track and supplied with water from a spring. She grew up there as the youngest of three children of Molly (nee Clark) and Richard Nicholson, and was so petite that she was described by her father as “the pocket edition”. With her sister, Joan, and brother, David, Phillida roamed the local countryside on foot or with ponies, and recalled walking down the mountain in all weathers to catch the train from Bodfari to school in Denbigh. Later she went to boarding school in Yorkshire.

Bethlehem, a woodcut by Phillida Nicholson
Bethlehem, a woodcut by Phillida Nicholson

After the second world war, where she volunteered as a land girl, Phillida went to Liverpool College of Art. Her first interest was in sculpture, but she later became a painter and tapestry designer, as well as making woodcuts and linocuts, and drawing. She painted mainly in oils, and liked a large canvas. She studied further at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, at art school in Venice and at the Académie André Lhote in Paris, and came to speak fluent French and Italian.

She travelled widely, usually alone and often walking, and visited Ethiopia and the Holy Land in search of artistic motifs. She also worked as an archaeological artist on British and American digs. On a trip to Australia to visit cousins she was fascinated by the flora and fauna.

A painting by Phillida Nicholson
A painting by Phillida Nicholson

Phillida’s work was exhibited at the Redfern Gallery, the Piccadilly Gallery and the Leicester Galleries in London, and at the Minories in Colchester and the Ashgate Gallery in Farnham, Hampshire. In 1953-54 her work was included in Contemporary Painting and Sculpture in Wales at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and then on tour; and in 1964 in Painters from Wales, organised by the Artists International Association. The National Museum Wales hold some of her paintings.

Her tapestry designs were woven at factories including Aubusson in France and the Dovecot Studio in Edinburgh, and she also tried her hand at weaving herself.

Later in her life, a legacy from a friend enabled her to buy a small artist’s studio in Battersea, London, and she would spend the winter in London, visiting museums and galleries and walking in Battersea Park.

Phillida Nicholson
Phillida Nicholson exhibited all over the UK, and some of her work is held by the National Museum Wales

She remained physically strong until her late 80s. She developed dementia and found the loss of memory distressing but remained interested in looking at art works, and loved the natural world, taking pleasure in the smallest details. Up until her final illness, she continued to tend her garden. Spring in Wales with massed daffodils in her mountain garden was her favourite time.

Phillida is remembered with great affection by her extended family, many friends and wonderful carers. She is survived by a niece, and many cousins.


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