Obituary: E. Q. Nicholson

Elsie Queen Myers, artist, born London 4 November 1908, married 1931 Kit Nicholson (died 1948; one son, two daughters), died London 7 September 1992.

E. Q. NICHOLSON was a designer and painter whose work in both genres was marked by a natural lyricism and a delight in space, light and the movement of line.

The daughter of the novelist LH Myers, she grew up in a circle which included artists such as Frank Dobson and Cedric Morris. After training in Paris she worked on batik for Marion Dorn and designed rugs. Her interest in images of the natural and flowing motion of birds, fish and animals was evident from the first and would later translate into explorations of plant form, both in paintings and in her best-known applied design, 'Runner Bean' (c1950), which appeared both as furnishing fabric (used in HM Yacht Britannia) and as one of her hand-printed wallpapers for Cole & Son. Charac teristically, this design conveys at once both the thrusting life of the plant and pleasure in the irregular forms of its outgrowths.

In 1931 she married the architect Kit Nicholson, youngest son of the painters William Nicholson and Mabel Pryde. She assisted in the office he ran with Hugh Casson, which produced distinctive Modernist buildings that were pioneering for their time. The combination in Kit Nicholson's architecture of control and attention to detail with a sense of luminosity and openness is paralleled in his wife's designs and paintings and in the interiors that she created throughout her life, whether professionally (as in Kit's building at Dunstable for the London Gliding Club, and in other peoples' houses) or in the many houses of her own.

In the 1930s, 'EQ' (who was always known thus to friends and family, rather than by her given names, Elsie Queen) began to use lino blocks for the fabrics which she designed and printed. In the 1940s and 1950s she made fabric designs for machine printing, for Edinburgh Weavers. Thereafter her work as a designer abated until the 1980s brought a marked revival of both interest and activity; she reworked some of her earlier designs for new uses and executed and exhibited tufted rugs to designs by her son Timothy.

The strangest aspect of the revival of awareness of EQ Nicholson's art was the late rediscovery of her work as a painter, which was confined to some 15 years considerable activity from 1941, and at the time received one exhibition, at the Hanover Gallery, in London, in 1950. Unmentioned by her, her works in gouache, crayon and collage were discovered many years later in a drawer. They revealed a directness and vitality; the warmth of the response they received pleased but also astonished her - she never seemed quite able to believe in it.

A central quality of these paintings is their infectious feeling of pleasure in the vessels and materials of everyday domestic existence, and in their use. Still life is sometimes elided with the mysterious uninhabited landscape that was another of her genres. Her kitchen paintings excite the gastronomic as well as the visual sense. These show her use of paint and collage at its most bold and instinctive, giving the greatest freedom to that juxtaposition of patterns and textures in variety which characterised all her art. A conspicuous influence was Braque, whose work moved her to tears in the late 1940s.

EQ's own visual instincts merged naturally with the sensibility of the family she married into, for example in her love of spots and stripes, of visual rhymes, of highlights, of a certain direct simplicity and of glowing yet subtle colour.

In the work reproduced here, both the double transparency and the device of a picture within a picture are typical, while the fabric, with its syncopated pattern, was designed by her husband's brother, Ben Nicholson, and printed by their sister Nancy.

An important ingredient in EQ Nicholson's art is an implicit sense of fun, which was also strongly evident when one met her. The painter John Craxton has written eloquently of the influence that this and her zest for all the arts had on his own early development. Her lively humour was allied with a certain charming vagueness and idiosyncracy, which perhaps underlie Fiona MacCarthy's description of her as 'deeply enigmatic'. In 1988 EQ's younger daughter, Louisa Creed, summed up her personality in these words:

She has magnetism and charm; she is scintillating and humorous; she is (usually) fun to be with but, to balance all these fascinating qualities, she is also impulsive, restless, demanding. The glittering sunlight of her approval is matched by the heavily undisguised clouds of her disapproval. . . She knows how to laugh at herself and would rather be painted in dazzling, fitful colours than in benign, subdued tones. Another extraordinary thing about our mother is that fear, and anxiety, appear to be entirely absent from her nature.

She will sail through the most terrible ordeals without a moment of worry or doubt; she will never fuss or wonder whether she is doing the right thing. She simply does it, and anybody else involved can take it or leave it.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?