Nicholson, William (1872-1949), 'H. M. The Queen (Queen Victoria)', Lithograph, 1897

'H. M. The Queen (Queen Victoria)', Lithograph, 1897

Nicholson decided to do a commemorative portrait of the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Nicholson’s informal depiction of the Queen out walking her dog in the gardens of Kensington Palace, looking like ‘an animated tea-cosy’, was out of step with usual depictions of the Queen as a great Empress with all the pomp and splendour that entailed. However many praised this portrait for its truth and boldness, and it was in fact in line with affectionate opinions among the public at the time of the Queen as ‘our old lady’.

Joseph Pennell remarked ‘I have yet to be shown a painting of Her Majesty worthier of a place in our National Portrait Gallery than this little colour print’ while Oscar Wilde, after seeing Nicholson’s portrait, wrote to an acquaintance that ‘Every poet should gaze at the portrait of his Queen, all day long’. The greatest compliment was to come from Whistler as reported by Marguerite Steen in her book of 1943: Whistler said ‘A Wonderful portrait, Mr Nicholson’. William modestly replied that it was a ‘wonderful subject’, to which Whistler, with his usual happiness in turning a neat phrase, replied: ‘You know, Her Majesty might say the same of you’.

An 1898 issue of The Art Journal stated that ‘Since his famous portrait of the Queen in The New Review, Mr W. Nicholson’s success has been assured. With some of the grandeur of Velazquez, combined with much of the decorative ability of Caldecott, Mr Nicholson has found a path for himself, and he reigns there without a rival’.

This lithograph was originally printed for publication in the July 1897 issue of The New Review. However, in the New Review the lithographs were folded vertically to fit the page size of the publication; this lithograph is unfolded and is one of a few examples printed at the time to be sold individually. This portrait of the Queen was later included in the first series of Twelve Portraits published by Heinemann in 1899.

Reference: Campbell 17. B.