The Canticelli Vase (or The Wedgwood Bowl/China Cup and Necklace) signed with initial 'N' (lower right) oil on board 33 x 26.5 cm. (13 x 10 1/2 in.) Painted in 1909
PROVENANCE: Sir Michael E. Sadler Sale; Christie's, 30 November 1928, lot 149 (£21), where purchased by Major Lessore, Beaux Arts Gallery T.E. Milligan Grundy, early 1940s Roland, Browse & Delbanco, 1945 Ralph C. Smith, Sydney, Australia, 1945, where gifted to the present owner Private Collection, Australia
EXHIBITED: London, New English Art Club, Winter Exhibition, 20 November 1909 - January 1910, no.38 London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Exhibition of Recent Paintings by William Nicholson, 24 April - 31 May 1929, no.33 (£35) London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Summer Exhibition, 12 - 29 July 1932, no.36 (£31 10s.) Nottingham, Museum and Art Gallery, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, 11 March - 24 April 1933, no.146 (£31 10s) London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by William Nicholson, 1 May - 2 June 1933, no.67 Manchester City Art Gallery, Platt Hall, Works by William Nicholson, 24 June - 23 July 1933, no.6; this exhibition toured to Scarborough Public Library, 4 August - 2 September 1933, no.50; Folkestone, Public Art Gallery, 30 October - 28 November 1933, no.40; Belfast Municipal Museum & Art Gallery, February 1934, no.22 (£31 10s); Lincoln, Usher Art Gallery, 7 July - 7 August 1934, no.56; Newark Municipal Museum, 24 September - 24 October 1934, no.21 (for sale) London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Exhibition of Early Paintings by Richard Sickert and William Nicholson, 5 - 26 May 1939, no.20 (30 gns) Warminster, Lord Weymouth's Grammar School, Exhibition of Paintings from the Beaux Arts Gallery...by Sir William Nicholson, Richard Sickert, and other Eminent Artists, 11 February - 30 March 1941, no.23 (30 gns)
LITERATURE: Lillian Browse, William Nicholson, London, 1956, no.142 (as The Canticelli Vase, assigned to circa 1913); and as no.238 (as The Wedgwood Bowl, assigned to 1920) Patricia Reed, William Nicholson: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Yale University Press, London & New Haven, 2011, p.163, cat.no.167 (ill.col)
In the years before the First World War, from 1909, William Nicholson painted several small still-lifes featuring just one or two objects, many of which were purchased by his patron T.W.Bacon. The Canticelli Vase is one of the earliest of these intimate little portraits set in a shallow picture space - later explored with a dextrous use of shadows. The framing of these works was of particular importance to the artist who favoured very wide gilded ripple-wave moulded frames giving a jewel-like setting to the humble mugs and jugs that were usually his subjects. Few of these frames have survived so it is very fortunate that the present work appears to be still in its original frame.
Although always exhibited as The Canticelli Vase, the work features an example of Cantagalli maiolica from the Florentine pottery of Ulisse Cantagalli (1839-1901). Whether this was a misprint perpetuated from the first exhibition catalogue or rather that the artist thought the name Canticelli sounded more attractive is not known. With its rich polychrome decoration and the relief moulded figure, the cup is an unusual and mysterious object set in very dark space with only the delicate jewelled necklace to give some indication of space and scale.
The ruby and copper lustre decoration for which the Cantagalli factory was much admired are both visible here. The factory had strong links with the English-speaking community in Florence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, partly through Margaret Tod, the wife and business partner of Ulisse, who continued to run the business after his death. Many British art potters such as William de Morgan had a great admiration of Cantagalli and his ability to recreate Renaissance maiolica techniques that had hitherto been lost. (This cup and the subject depicted in relief could doubtless be identified from the Fondo Cantagalli archive. The largest collection of Cantagalli maiolica accessible to the public is displayed in the Museo Stibbert, Florence.)
This painting was acquired from the New English Art Club exhibition by the educationalist and collector (Sir) Michael Sadler (1861-1943). It has not been seen in public in Europe since 1941.
We are grateful to Patricia Reed for compiling this catalogue entry.