Paintings by Jessica Dismorr and Winifred Nicholson

Paintings by Jessica Dismorr and Winifred Nicholson on loan to the exhibition, 'Radical Women: Jessica Dismorr and her Contemporaries' at the Pallant House Gallery

Opening on 2 November, an exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester re-examines the work of Jessica Dismorr and her impact on British art from c.1910 to the 1930s. Works of art by her female contemporaries including Winifred Nicholson, Anne Estelle Rice, Helen Saunders and Barbara Hepworth also feature in the show.

a landscape with trees

Jessica Dismorr, Landscape with Trees, oil painting © image: Crown Copyright

Landscape with Trees and Landscape with Cottages

Painted between 1911 and 1912, these early works by Jessica Dismorr reveal her experimental approach to form and colour. Resembling a woven tapestry or stained glass window, Landscape with Trees has a distinctive decorative patterning that forms the tracery of tree branches against blue outlined clouds. Landscape with Cottages is a scene of trees, bushes and roofs painted unusually in dark blue, pink and green. Stylistically, both paintings reflect the influence of an older generation of French artists that Dismorr encountered during the two years she lived in Paris from about 1910, while studying at ‘La Palette’, the art school run by Jacques Emile Blanche. A decade earlier, Matisse, Derain and Braque, described as ‘les Fauves’ (‘the wild beasts’), had sought to upturn traditional painting genres by using vibrant colours and unusual compositional viewpoints to express emotion. Dismorr’s early paintings also reflected the influence of Expressionist painters working in Germany, notably Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluf and Nolde.

a landscape with trees and cottages

Jessica Dismorr, Landscape with Cottages, oil painting © image: Crown Copyright

About Jessica Dismorr

Jessie Stewart Dismorr was born in Gravesend, Kent in 1885. She studied at the Slade School of Art, and with the artist Max Bohm between 1905–1908 in Etaples, France.

The First World War period was a significant turning point for Dismorr. In June 1914 she was one of 11 British artists to sign the first manifesto of the Vorticists, the art movement founded by Wyndham Lewis. Dismorr and Helen Saunders were the only women in the group. Advocating semi-abstraction and urban life, the Vorticists called for a radical disruption of British art. Vorticism influenced the development of Dismorr’s painting until 1925 when she broke away from the group.

Three plant pots on a table by a window

Winifred Nicholson, Flower Piece, oil painting © Winifred Nicholson Trustees / image: Crown Copyright

Flower Piece by Winifred Nicholson

Also on loan to Pallant House Gallery is Flower Piece by Winifred Nicholson. She mixed in the same circles as Dismorr in the 1920 and ‘30s and had exhibited with the Seven and Five Society, along with Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.

Nicholson’s still life presents a cluster of potted plants on a table by a window. Outside a cloudy English landscape unfolds. Describing her interest in painting flowers she once remarked:

… 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?

Floral still life was a motif that Nicholson frequently returned to in her career. As a young woman in 1919–1920, she and her sister visited India with their father, Charles Roberts, a Liberal MP who was a member of the commission on self-government for India. Nicholson kept a sketchbook on the journey, filling it with colourful watercolours, later recalling how:

‘… eastern art uses lilac to create sunlight.’

Nicholson developed a deep interest in colour symbolism later in life. In December 1944, her article, The Liberation of Colour, was published in World Review under the name Winifred Dacre. Equating colour to music, she devised a chart illustrating how Old Master artists 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.

About Winifred Nicholson

Winifred Nicholson was born in Oxford, a granddaughter of George Howard, the ninth Earl of Carlisle, a friend and patron of the Pre-Raphaelites. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, London and in Paris before travelling to India and Burma. In 1920 she married artist Ben Nicholson, living in Switzerland and England. She was a member of the Seven & Five Society and exhibited with the New English Art Club.

After her marriage ended in 1931, Nicholson moved to Paris where she mixed with artists of the Abstract-Création Group, including Jean Hélion, Piet Mondrian and Hans Hartung. Back in England in 1938, she lived in Cumbria during the Second World War; and later travelled across Europe. In the late 1960s, she sold her farmhouse to Li Yuan-Chia, a Chinese abstract artist who shared her enthusiasm for colour theory. Six years after her death in 1981, a retrospective of her work was held at the Tate Gallery.

Visitor Information

Pallant House Gallery
8-9 North Pallant
Chichester
PO19 1TJ

Until 23 February 2020

Telephone: +44 (0)1243 774557
Website: www.pallant.org.uk