A ceramic vase holds a clutch of milky blue cornflowers and slowly wilting red and white carnations against the backdrop of a grey-blue sky. The blooms echo the decorative flower on the vase. Explaining her fascination with floral still lives, Winifred Nicholson commented:
… my paintbrush always gives a tremor of pleasure when I let it paint a flower… Flowers mean different things to different people… what greater enjoyment than to turn common air into perfume, light into rainbows and the irreconcilable opposites into the neighbourliness of brushstrokes?
In the 1940s, Nicholson developed an interest in colour symbolism, a subject related to Flowers on a Window Sill. In December 1944, she was commissioned to write an article for the World Review on the ‘Liberation of Colour’. Equating colour to music, she devised a chart that set out to illustrate how Old Master painters such as El Greco had used colour to express form. During the austerity of the war years, she argued that colour’s liberating properties provided an inspirational new way of looking at the natural world:
I have built for you the scaffolding of the artist’s science, upon which the new colour art is being built everywhere, even in the fiery crucible of war, because colour is as much a need for man as freedom.
Winifred Nicholson was born in Oxford and studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London. After travelling in Asia, she married the artist Ben Nicholson in 1920. They lived between Switzerland and London. From 1928 to 1935 both were members of the Seven and Five Society, along with Christopher Wood, Ivon Hitchens, John Piper, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. After separating in 1931, Winifred moved to Paris with their children where artists including Jean Hélion and Piet Mondrian encouraged her to develop her own style. From 1939 she lived in Cumbria but regularly travelled abroad. Her career was overshadowed by the achievements of her ex-husband, yet a major memorial show at the Tate in 1987 helped to redress this.
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