Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 41.djvu/36

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Nicholson
Nicholson
30

editions to the present day [see Ure, Andrew]. Nicholson's name was also attached to a great work, ‘The British Encyclopædia, or Dictionary of Arts and Sciences,’ 6 vols., London, 1809; but this was an undertaking of some London booksellers, framed in opposition to a ‘Dictionary of Arts and Sciences’ then being issued under the name of Dr. George Gregory. Neither Gregory nor Nicholson took any very active share in the compilations to which their names were attached.

Nicholson had become engineer to the Portsea Island Waterworks Company, and in 1810 he quarrelled with the directors. He published ‘A Letter to the Proprietors of the Portsea Waterworks, occasioned by an Application made to them by the Assigns under an Act for bringing Water from Farlington.’ Soon after this he fell into ill-health, and, after a lingering illness, died in Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury, on 21 May 1815.

Nicholson shared the common fate of projectors: he was continually occupied in useful work, but failed to derive any material advantage from his labours, and was generally in embarrassed circumstances. His habits were studious, his manners gentle, and his judgment uniformly calm and dispassionate. The soundness of the numerous opinions which he expressed as a scientific umpire was unquestioned.

[New Monthly Mag. iii. 569, iv. 76; Gent. Mag. 1815 pt. i. p. 570, 1616 pt. i. pp. 70, 602; Biog. Universelle; Smiles's Men of Invention and Industry, pp. 164, 177, 194, 202; Biog. des Contemporains, 1824; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Aikin's General Biogr.; Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Phil. Trans. xc. 376; Thomson's Hist. Roy. Soc.; Thomson's Hist. of Chemistry, 1831; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, v. 376.]

S. P. O.

NICHOLSON, WILLIAM, (1781–1844), portrait-painter and etcher, was born at Ovingham-on-Tyne on 25 Dec. 1781. He was the second of the four sons of James Nicholson, schoolmaster, of Ovingham, and Elizabeth Orton his wife. His paternal grandfather, John Nicholson, had been tenant of the farm of Whitelee, in the parish of Elsdon, Northumberland. His father having been appointed master of the grammar school in Newcastle, the family removed to that city, and at an early age William went to Hull, where he made his earliest attempts in art, executing miniatures of several of the officers of a regiment stationed there. He appears to have been mainly, if not entirely, self-educated in art; but his sketch-books show how careful and constant had been his study of the works of the best masters in public and private galleries. He next returned to Newcastle, and began, in 1808, to exhibit in the Royal Academy with ‘A Group of Portraits, &c., Servants of C. J. Brandling, M.P. Gosforth House, Northumberland.’ In 1816 his contributions included a seated, full-length portrait of Thomas Bewick, the wood-engraver, which was engraved by Thomas Ransom; and he contributed to the Royal Academy for the last time in 1822. Meanwhile he had painted many portraits of members of the old families of Northumberland. By 1814 he had removed to Edinburgh, where he practised as a miniaturist and painter in oils, but especially attracted attention by his very delicate and spirited water-colour portraits, which were his finest works, and where, in 1821, he married Maria, daughter of Walter Lamb of Edinburgh. In 1814 he sent to the seventh of the Edinburgh exhibitions of pictures, organised by the Associated Artists, eight works—genre, architectural, animal, landscape and portraits, including the above-mentioned portrait of Bewick. In the following year he was represented by twenty works, including portraits of Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, and Tennant the poet, and his name appears in the catalogue as a member of the Edinburgh Exhibition Society; and in 1816 he exhibited portraits of Daniel Terry the actor, the Earl of Buchan, and a second portrait of Hogg, along with other twenty works. In April 1818 he began to publish, from 36 George Street, a series of ‘Portraits of Distinguished Living Characters of Scotland, drawn and etched by William Nicholson,’ from his portraits and those by other painters. Two parts only, with text, of three plates each were issued; but further publication in that form was discontinued, though the artist continued to produce in the immediately succeeding years a few other etchings from his portraits, and in 1886 an edition of seven subjects was printed in America by the artist's son, Mr. W. L. Nicholson, of Washington City, who possessed the original plates. Nicholson's etchings include portraits of Sir Walter Scott, Hogg, Lord Jeffrey, George Thomson, Professor Playfair, Professor John Wilson, Sir William Allan, P.R.S.A., James Watt the engineer (in his eighty-second year, 1817); and among them was a reduced copy of Nasmyth's original portrait of Robert Burns, and a very striking reproduction of one of Sir Henry Raeburn's own portraits of himself. In his prospectus the artist states that ‘in the mode of execution, he has endeavoured to follow a middle style, combining, to the utmost of his power, the freedom of the painter's etching (and in this respect, of course, holding up Vandyke and Rembrandt to himself as his models), with the finish of a regular engraving.’ The heads