Modern British & 20th Century Art - 31 May 2022


Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)

£50,000 - £70,000 £440,000

Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)

Flowers and Books (for Siegfried Sassoon)

Oil on canvasboard, 1929

40.4 x 29cm


Siegfried Sassoon;

And by family descent


Lillian Browse, William Nicholson (London, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956), no.392;

Patricia Reed, William Nicholson: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings (London, Modern Art Press, 2011), p.490, no.626 (illustrated)

Siegfried Sassoon and Stephen Tennant were introduced by the Sitwells in 1927. They soon fell in love and began a relationship that lasted nearly six years. Sassoon's diary records that in 1929 he spent '£60 for a picture by William Nicholson for Stephen'. However, given there is no record of Tennant owning a work by Nicholson, it seems that the diary entry must refer to the present work. Instead of giving it to Tennant, it seems highly probable that Sassoon kept the painting, and it has remained in the poet's family ever since.

Nicholson and Sassoon were two of the pre-eminent figures of the early 20th Century British artistic and literary worlds. They first met 1918, through another famous war poet Robert Graves, who had married William's daughter Nancy. The following year Nicholson designed labels for 'The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon', and the two struck up a long-term friendship and working relationship. Sassoon purchased Heytesbury House, his home from 1933 until his death, after staying with Nicholson in nearby Sutton Veny.

In 1929, the year the present work was painted, Nicholson also provided the drawings for the illustrated edition of 'Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man'. Nicholson's portrait of Sassoon, intended for the frontispiece, was rejected by the author, although for a rare copy of this, see lot 51.

We are grateful to Patricia Reed for her assistance cataloguing the present work.


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