Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lillie May Nicholson

Lillie May Nicholson
I had a bit of luck in St. Albans' only second hand book store, The Eloquent Page. I was for once without a book when I found I had to wait a long time in the city. So, for $6 I bought Lillie May Nicholson 1884-1964: An Artist Rediscovered, by Walter A. Nelson-Rees.

And, as I came to write this, I looked for a decent link to her bio or work. No luck. It seems her paintings sell well, and galleries and collectors are looking for them. But there's no in-depth bio, at least in the first five pages of Google. I finally found a gallery (Trotter Galleries) with a decent number of thumbnails and a short bio. The image here of "Fishermen at Pier" is from their site.

Nicholson's work is strong and almost entirely of California coastal scenes, both of the water and of people and workers near the water. Many boats, much light and water. She also looked at the social ills in Oakland and in 1943, at the age of 59 became an aircraft mechanic. After the war she never took up art again.

I am fascinated by these paintings because of the incredibly strong, even harsh, brush strokes in many of them. I'd love to see one in the flesh. The paintings are small, the largest one I came across in the Catalog at the back of the book was 16" x 20".

The catalogue lists 335 works, a large number of which are owned by the book's author. On January 25 of this year, one of her paintings realized nearly $6,000 at auction.


  1. Lillie Nicholson is actually a relative of mine, and my father has quite a few of her paintings. I will send this link to him, I am sure he would love to share what he knows of her.

  2. knot --
    Very nice of you to leave your comment -- and for sure, I was puzzled by the lack of web info about your relative -- artists this good are not growing on trees.

  3. Artist Biography

    Lillie May NICHOLSON
    1884 - 1964

    Lillie May Nicholson was born on a ranch near Aromas, California on August 29, 1884. She graduated from State Normal School in San Jose in 1907 and then taught school in Hawaii (1908-10) and in Watsonville, California (1910-11). In Watsonville she studied watercolor techniques with L. Minnie Pardee and during the years 1911-16, she was in Japan where she taught at Kyoto and studied art under J. Taguchi. After returning from the Orient, she continued her art studies at the California School of Fine Arts for five years where she was greatly influenced by Gottardo Piazzoni. During 1921-22 she traveled and painted in Italy and France. Her marriage to Paul DeWolf in 1925 lasted only a few years. From 1923-38 she maintained a studio in Pacific Grove and specialized in coastal scenes and the fishing industry around Monterey. After closing her studio in 1938, Nicholson moved to Oakland and abandoned her art career to become an aircraft mechanic at the Alameda Naval Air Station. The last 20 years of her life were spent as a resident of the Sutter Hotel in Oakland where she died on November 28, 1964. Her work was rediscovered in 1979 when a trunk was found on the family ranch containing the corpus of her life's work. An Impressionist, her work is characterized by loose brush strokes and vivid, broken color. Many of her oils were painted on cardboard 12" x 16". Member: Carmel Art Ass'n. Exh: Carmel Arts & Crafts Club, 1923-28; Arizona State Fair, 1927; California State Fair, 1926-28; Santa Cruz Art League, 1928; Monterey Peninsula Museum, 1981 (solo); Oakland Museum, 1981; University of California at Santa Cruz, 1985; Santa Cruz Museum, 1986 (retrospective). Works held: Santa Cruz City Museum; Monterey Peninsula Museum; Oakland Museum; White House (Washington, DC).

  4. knot --
    A wonderful chronology and quite enough to whet the appetite -- I'm going to do another blog entry that links back to this so folks can find your comment.
    Thank you so much -- this is the way the web was meant to work!

  5. Interested person's may view a couple of Ms. Nicholson's pieces during Art in the Adobes in Monterey September 13-16, 2012 - They are part of the City of Monterey's Art Collection

  6. Hello, I have a painting of Lillie May Nicholson that has prep work for another painting on the back. Would like to get it appraised. I have had several people asking about it. Would like to get the best price possible. Also, have a March 9-May 4, 1986 Catalog - The Art Museum of Santa Cruz County.

    Kathy Tam

  7. You will need to start just as I did, with the Internet. My post is 3 years old, there may be more information out there now. Or, you could start with the Trotter Gallery which I mention in my first post. You are fortunate indeed to have one of her paintings. I'm sorry you are looking to sell it.