Begonias and wine

We decided a little while ago to replace the Japanese prints that hang on our stair walls with paintings bought from artist friends, or from shows where the prices are modest, looking not for investment value but for pictures we love. We have six to date, and lots of wall space waiting. Two local artists, Rachel Wyndham and Sasha Turnbull, have a joint selling show in Lewes at present, and we’ve bought lovely paintings by each of them. Rachel has a habit of painting still lives of quinces, which she says makes her a ‘quince tart’. We now have one of them. Sasha’s painting is of begonias.

When I told Sasha what we’d bought, she said that it had been inspired by a painting of begonias by William Nicholson, the painter (and father of Ben Nicholson) who died just after I was born. From time to time I get requests on my website from people who confuse us (“Have you illustrated any other books as well as ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’?”), and have to explain that not only am I not the painter, but we are in no way related. Even so, I feel a connection; and I’m also a very great admirer of his work.

I looked up this painting of begonias by William Nicholson, and found he painted it in 1939, at Bretton Park in Yorkshire, while working on a portrait of Lord Allendale. In a letter to his daughter he recorded that it was painted “with an urge”, during one long overnight session, “after a perfect dinner (O! the wine)!” I love this. It’s a beautiful painting: a glass jar of begonias alongside notebooks, an ink bottle, and red sealing wax, all lit by the glow of an oil lamp. It’s in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

He seems to have been a most loveable man, my namesake. He made artistic virtue, I read, of considered understatement and controlled freedom. I can only aspire to emulate him. I’m already there in one respect: O! the wine!