Kate Nicholson obituary

Other lives: Painter who created still lifes and abstract works from her homes in Cumbria and Cornwall

My aunt, Kate Nicholson, who has died aged 89, was a St Ives painter. She was a professional artist, creating still lifes and abstract works from her homes in Cumbria and Cornwall, and on her travels in Greece, North Africa and the Hebrides.

Born in Brampton, Cumbria, to the painters Winifred (nee Roberts) and Ben Nicholson, Kate displayed a vivid visual sense from an early age. She attended Brampton secondary school until 1944, then Claremont, and finally Langford Grove, which during the second world war was based in Herefordshire and then Lewes, East Sussex.

After brief periods at art colleges in Carlisle and Camberwell, from 1949 until 1953 she studied at Bath Academy of Art, usually called Corsham, where she was taught painting by William Scott and Peter Lanyon. In spite of the excellent atmosphere at Corsham, her real painting education came from working alongside her mother and her father, even though her parents had divorced in the 1930s.

Still Life With Jug and Flowers, by Kate Nicholson.
Still Life With Jug and Flowers, by Kate Nicholson. Photograph: © Courtesy of the estate of Kate Nicholson

After a period teaching art at Totnes high school for girls, Kate moved to St Ives in 1955 to live with her father. Ben Nicholson had inherited his still life idea from his father, William Nicholson, and with Ben’s encouragement Kate began to paint still lifes, displaying a delicate sensibility of colour and individuality.

From about 1957 Kate had her own house and studio in St Ives. She went back to Cumbria from 1975 to 1984, returning then to St Ives.

Kate was active in the Penwith Society – the more abstract breakaway group of St Ives artists – and her friends included the artists, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron and John Wells.

Her first solo London exhibition was in 1959, with Waddington galleries, where she showed her still lifes. Her next exhibition with Waddington in 1962 showed exclusively abstracts, many of them inspired by painting trips in Greece with her mother. Subsequently she exhibited at the Marjorie Parr gallery, London, in 1966, 1968 and 1970.

Kate created a unique style that reflected her poetic nature. At once delicate and robust, her paintings reveal a swiftness of execution and a delight in the process of playing and working with paint. They express satisfaction in straightforward objects and favourite places, everyday glass jugs and kitchen mugs, Berber brooches, the heat and light of Greece, or a Hebridean bog with wild orchids. Above all there is an exuberant freedom of expression grounded in Kate’s optimism and joy.

She was looking forward to her forthcoming solo exhibition at Falmouth art gallery (13 May – 6 July) and the first book devoted to her work, Kate Nicholson, written by me and due to be published this year.

Her paintings are included in a number of museum collections, including Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and Plymouth City Museum and art gallery.

Kate is survived by eight nephews and nieces.

Jovan Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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