Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 41.djvu/37

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

are carefully modelled, and they were considered successful as likenesses. In 1821 Nicholson sent to the first modern exhibition of the Institution (afterwards the Royal Institution) for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland, portraits of (Sir) William Allan (afterwards), P.R.S.A., in Tartar costume, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder and his wife, and Sir Adam Ferguson; and in 1825 he exhibited ten works, including portraits of George Thomson, and the Rev. Dr. Jamieson. His name first appears as an associate of the Institution in the catalogue of their exhibition (of ancient pictures) in 1826. It was Nicholson who, early in 1826, ‘handed round for signature a document in which it was proposed to found a Scottish academy,’ and at the first general meeting of the Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, held on 27 May 1826, he was elected secretary. He and Thomas Hamilton, the architect (in the words of Sir George Harvey, P.R.S.A.), ‘were the real founders of the academy, but for whose indomitable will and wise guidance the vessel would have been upon the rocks before it had well got under way.’ After discharging the duties of the position with great vigour and judgment he resigned on 26 April 1830, finding that the attention which the situation required was incompatible with his professional pursuits. He still, however, continued a valued member of the Academy, and his early (gratuitous) exertions as secretary were at a later day recognised by the presentation of a handsome set of silver plate from his fellow-academicians. He had sent twenty-six works to its first exhibition in 1827, and he contributed liberally to every one of its succeeding exhibitions, many of his later works being ‘genre’ pictures and landscape and coast subjects in oils, till his death by fever, after a few days' illness, in Edinburgh, on 16 Aug. 1844. He left two sons and two daughters.

Among the eminent men whose portraits were painted by Nicholson was Sir Walter Scott, of whom he executed four water-colours. The earliest, dated 1815, etched by the artist in 1817, is in the possession of his son, Mr. W. L. Nicholson, of Washington City; a second, with the position of the head somewhat altered, and with no objects introduced in the background, is in the possession of Mr. Erskine of Kinnedder; a third (without the dog, ‘Maida’) is in the possession of Lord Young, Edinburgh; and the fourth is at Abbotsford, where also are his water-colours of Scott's daughters, Sophia (Mrs. Lockhart) and Anne, of which there are engravings in Lockhart's ‘Life’ by G. B. Shaw. A slight, but particularly delicate, example of his work in water-colours is the head of the second wife of Professor Dugald Stewart, in the possession of the artist's daughter, Mrs. Duck. He is represented in the National Gallery of Scotland by an oil painting of Hugh W. Williams, artist, and a water-colour of George Thomson, the friend of Burns; in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery by an oil portrait of Sir Adam Ferguson, and a sepia sketch of Professor John Playfair; and in the collection of the Royal Scottish Academy by oil portraits of Thomas Hamilton, R.S.A., architect, William Etty, R.A., and a portrait of a lady.

[Redgrave's Dictionary; Catalogue of Scott Exhibition, 1871 (Edinb. 1872), and of the exhibitions mentioned above; Harvey's Notes of the Early History of the Royal Scottish Academy; information from the artist's daughter, Mrs. Duck, and his son, Mr. W. L. Nicholson of Washington, U.S.A.]

J. M. G.

NICHOLSON, WILLIAM (1782?–1849), the Galloway poet, son of a carrier between Dumfries and Galloway, was born at Tannymaas, Borgue, Kirkcudbrightshire, 15 Aug. 1782 (or, perhaps, August 1783). He received a little school education at Ringford, Kirkcudbrightshire, but his shortness of sight and his indifference to systematic study precluded the possibility of scholarship. His mother, a farmer's daughter, interested him in reading, and he was soon master of a store of chap-books, ballads, &c. At the age of fourteen he became a pedlar. For a number of years he had a varying success, occasionally touching low levels through closer attention to romance than to the disposal of his wares. Renowned for superior stuff for ladies' dresses, and for the quality of his tobacco-pipes, he attained sufficient prosperity in 1813 to enable him to buy a horse, which, however, on some romantic flight, broke its neck at a fence. Nicholson had habitually written verses ‘as a consolation in his solitary wanderings;’ he had been encouraged by Hogg; and now, on the recommendation of Dr. Alexander Murray (1775–1813) [q. v.] and Dr. Duncan of Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, he secured fifteen hundred subscribers to a collection of his poems, distributing the volumes from his pack, and earning thereby about 100l.

Nicholson's habits subsequently became less steady. A skilful piper, he would sometimes be found playing to young cattle and colts, and declaring himself better pleased with the antics of the animals than ‘if the best leddies in the land were figuring before him’ (Memoir, by John M'Diarmid). Constantly restless and thriftless, he at length yielded to tippling habits. Abandoning his