E. Q. NICHOLSON was born in Chelsea in 1908, writes Frances Partridge. Her father, Leo H. Myers, the intelligent and highly strung writer of novels which satirised modern civilisation beneath a picture of 16th-century India, looked for a solution of this problems in psychoanalysis, Communism and finally suicide. Her mother was Elsie Palmer, the daughter of a wealthy American railroad promoter, whose portrait as a young girl by Sargent hung on her daughter's wall.
In her teens EQ spent a year in Paris learning how to do batik, with her schoolfriend Rachel MacCarthy (later Lady David Cecil). I got to know the two girls together, when EQ had recently had a terrible accident doing her batik, and her face had been temporarily scarred by the explosion of her spirit lamp. I do not forget with what calm courage and detachment she took the disaster. She went straight ahead and worked for a year with Marion Dorn and McKnight Kauffer, designing more batiks, rugs, wallpapers and textiles, some of them to be used to decorate her parents' house at Cambridge. There she met, and later married, Kit Nicholson. He was one of the best English amateur gliders, but only 17 years after their marriage he was killed in the international gliding contest at Samden, Switzerland, in 1948.
EQ had three children to bring up alone, and it was some time before I came across her again, living amongst her astonishingly fresh designs and fine pictures. She had exquisite taste; every object she used had been fastidiously designed or chosen. She had developed a serene personality which seemed to keep something in reserve: a mysterious smile, and a musical voice in which laughter trembled.
By the time she was 80 she was nearly blind, but she walked across London with erect dignity, supported on an elegant stick, and her thick grey hair was beautifully curled.
I remember visiting her in the little house in Cambridge which she had decorated for Frances Cornford, the poetess: its French wallpaper was blotched with bunches of damp flowers, the carpet was thick and white, nightingales were singing in the trees in the garden.
EQ was very firm about what had and what had not a place in her universe. Music? Yes, she liked it, but only Bach, Bartok and Poulenc. She took me in the evening to a seance in the chapel her grandfather, FWH Myers, the famous spiritualist, had founded. I don't think she was entirely sceptical about the activities we witnessed there.Reuse content