My Favourite Painting: Tom Helme

'The way the farmhouse is described as a single flat shape continues to hold my admiration'

Landscape with Farmhouse, 1892, by William Nicholson (1872–1949), 8in by, Private Collection

Tom Helme says:

‘The oil is small and painted on the back of a cigar box, giving a different look to canvas, which I love. Choice of materials and method are fundamental to success in all creation, just as mystery plays a part in beauty.

Nicholson started painting this picture standing in the landscape, with one hand open to the end of a British landscape tradition. What is exciting is the tentative finger pointing forward to the abstract. The way the farmhouse is described as a single flat shape continues to hold my admiration. How and where pictures are hung either allows them to radiate or closes them down. This one, my favourite, hangs in our boyish set in Piccadilly under tight stairs and is viewed at a distance of 1ft when sitting on the mahogany thunderbox. Perfect!’

Tom Helme is an interior designer and former Advisor on Decoration to the National Trust. He is the creator of the original Farrow & Ball colours and co-founder of the fabrics and accessories company Fermoie

Recommended videos for you

John McEwen comments on Landscape with Farmhouse

Father of the more famous Ben’ remains William Nicholson’s unworthy lot, although Patricia Reed’s 2011 catalogue raisonné of the paintings endorses that other scholar Tim Hilton’s assessment: ‘Ben still gets more attention [and higher prices], but William is more loved.’ Nicholson was born at Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. His father ran the family industrial firm and was briefly the town’s Conservative MP. As a teenager, Nicholson had painting lessons from a local artist, the septuagenarian William Cubley, and particularly enjoyed their country sketching trips.

At 16, he joined the academician Hubert von Herkomer’s art school at Bushey, near Watford, where he met a Scottish student, Mabel Pryde, whose brother James, six years his senior, was already an artistic success. This was a definitive moment. In 1893, he married Mabel and, in 1894, formed the printmaking partnership J. & W. Beggarstaff with his brother-in-law, which made his name.

After leaving Herkomer, he briefly attended the Académie Julian in Paris. In the census of that year, he described himself as an artist, aged 27, although he was only 19 and had never sold a picture; a disdain for form filling lasted a lifetime.

This landscape, one of his earliest surviving pictures, dates from his return to Newark from France, when he lived with his parents and had a studio in the garden. Many years later, he gave it to his former mistress and housekeeper, Marie Laquelle, at which point the signature and heavy varnish were probably added. Laquelle seems to have been a teasing endearment of Nicholson’s—‘Marie laquelle?’—adopted by Marie. It was never her legal name.