'This one was and is my favourite. So simple, so stunning.'

The Lustre Bowl with Green Peas, 1911, by Sir William Nicholson (1872–1949), 21½in by 23½in, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

The Lustre Bowl with Green Peas, 1911, by Sir William Nicholson (1872–1949), 21½in by 23½in, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. Bequeathed by Sir Alexander Maitland with life interest to Colonel Peter Dunphie. Presented by Colonel Dunphie 1997. Desmond Banks/Rory Lindsay Photography

Johnnie Boden on The Lustre Bowl with Green Peas by Sir William Nicholson

My wife, Sophie, in an attempt to civilise me, often drags me to exhibitions, museums or churches. When we went to the William Nicholson exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2004, I had, until then, only really seen his Alphabet and Months series. But that show was unique; I loved every painting. And this one was and is my favourite. So simple, so stunning.

Above all, the flash of light that lifts it out of the ordinary. I want to know more. What sort of person owns the bowl? What is going on in the room? And why peas with silver? I also feel and love the melancholy here. I never tire of looking at it.

Johnnie Boden is creative director of mail-order fashion company Boden, which he founded in 1991

John McEwen comments on The Lustre Bowl with Green Peas

Nicholson met Mabel Pryde – and her brother, James – when they were students at Herkomer’s Art School, Bushey, Hertfordshire. In 1893, they eloped to Denham, near Bushey, where they were joined by James. The two men formed the Beggarstaffs in 1894, producing posters and prints, including the wood-cut portfolios of An Alphabet and An Almanac of Twelve Sports, for which they are both probably still best known.

Mabel gave birth to Ben, who would achieve greater artistic celebrity than his father, the same year. The partnership ended in 1899, when Nancy, future wife of Robert Graves, was born.

This painting was done after they moved from London, by now a family of six, to The Grange, Rottingdean, East Sussex, in 1909 – the year Nicholson met Marie Laquelle, who became his model and then his mistress. It’s the first of the lustrous still-lifes that are, today, his most coveted paintings and was a gift for publisher William Heinemann, an attached letter disclosing that the subject was painted for a bet.

The challenge of depicting lustreware of all types was a source of enjoyment for Nicholson thereafter, encouraged by his collecting English vernacular pottery. Silver lustre – earthenware covered with a platinum-lustre glaze – was a popular substitute for real silver in the early 19th century, not least because it didn’t tarnish.

Ben Nicholson inherited his father’s taste for pottery as a favourite subject. In 1918, Mabel died and William notoriously took Ben’s fiancée as his second wife. Judging by his greater popularity for this page than his son, he trumps him posthumously as well.