Unearthing a Trove of Nicholsons - III


English Portrait Print of "Mark Twain" by Sir William Nicholson, RA in Dark, Quarter-Sawn-Oak Arts & Crafts Frame (LEO Design)


Let's end our tribute to the brilliant English artist, Sir William Nicholson, with a tribute to the brilliant American writer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens—better known as Mark Twain.

In 1899, Nicholson published his first series of Twelve Portraits, published in London by William Heinemann.  This was after Heinemann had already published three other Nicholson portfolios: An Almanac of 12 Sports (1897), London Types (1898), and The Alphabet (1898).  Heinemann was keen to keep the business rolling.  He proposed a second series of twelve portraits—and even suggested the list of luminaries to be included.

The problem was, Nicholson was quite busy!  He was running a successful graphic arts and printmaking business with his brother-in-law, James Pryde (called The Beggerstaffs).  He was asked to illustrate several books (including The Velveteen Rabbit in 1922).  He designed theatre scenery, including the original stage production of Peter Pan (1904).  He designed the occasional stained glass church window.  And, what he really wanted to do, was spend time producing his fine art—oil paintings (portraits, still lifes and historic renderings), perhaps his most sublime talent.

By 1902, Nicholson was able to complete the artwork for the publication of Twelve Portraits—Second Series.  For the rendering of Mark Twain, shown above, Nicholson used a sketch study he had made in New York in the Autumn of 1900.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) might be the greatest American writer of all time.  He created indelible characters—firmly set within the circumstances of their times—and he was an unparalleled wit.  Though he was enormously successful as a writer (financially, critically, famously), he also had a way of investing his earnings rather poorly.  He was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1894.  Although he was not required by law to do so, he did eventually pay all his creditors (mostly by touring on a very popular speaking circuit).

Mark Twain's father died when the boy was eleven years old.  Twain dropped out of school (after Fifth Grade) to take work as a typesetter and printer's assistant.  He worked in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York City—all the while attempting to educate himself in public libraries.   He spent time training to be a river boat pilot, where he settled on his pen name, "Mark Twain" (which is a river man's call that the water is at least 2 fathoms, that is twelve feet, deep—deep enough for a riverboat to pass).

When the Civil War broke out, Twain became a Confederate soldier for two weeks, before decamping for the Nevada Territory (and, later, San Francisco).

The print above, published in 1902, captures the brilliant writer about a decade before his death.  Twain was born two weeks after Haley's Comet passed close to the Earth.  He predicted that he "would go out" with the comet when it came back.  He was right.  Twain died one month before Haley's Comet passed-by in 1910.

Click on the photo above to learn more about this handsome print (handsomely framed).


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Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248