My favourite painting: The Duchess of Cornwall

'I can never pass it without stopping to marvel'

The Duchess of CornwallGold Jug, 1937, by Sir William Nicholson (1872–1949), 16in by 13in, The Royal Collection

The Duchess of Cornwall says:

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had an unerring eye for a good painting. Sir William Nicholson’s Gold Jug is a testament to that. It hangs in Clarence House and I can never pass it without stopping to marvel at the way the artist catches the play of light on the jug’s lustrous surface.

The Duchess of Cornwall will celebrate her 70th birthday on July 17

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The Duchess of Cornwall

John McEwen comments on Gold Jug:

In 1936, William Nicholson received a knighthood, principally for his work as a Society portraitist and graphic artist. In these capacities, he was under an obligation to others, but when he painted landscapes or still-lifes, the pleasure was entirely his. Not that he was ever a toady.

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That his first marriage was an elopement announced a free spirit. Wit, sensuality and a dandyish panache are all displayed in the lustrous Gold Jug (more accurately a tankard) gorgeously at odds with its workaday studio surroundings—the smooth with the rough. Nicholson was that rare English being, a sensualist. This national trait still pertains. When asked not long ago what most struck him when visiting England, a famous contemporary German artist said that he never saw people touch each other.

Sir William’s artist son Ben Nicholson, who drifted in and out of abstraction, neatly fitted academic categorisation and, accordingly, his art has entered more museums and fetches higher prices at auction. Yet, for all its opposing coolness, it bears the influence of his father, especially of his still-life pictures, as he proudly admitted: ‘His poetic ideal and his still-life theme… from the beautiful striped and spotted jugs and mugs and goblets… which he collected. Having those things throughout the house was an unforgettable experience for me.’

It was Kenneth Clark, director of the National Gallery, who advised Queen Elizabeth to buy the picture in July 1942. It was a month of glimmering optimism: the first American bombing raid of Germany (July 4) and the success of the first Battle of el Alamein (July 1–27). Perhaps in that still dim, wartime hour, the Gold Jug offered hope as well as golden memories of peace.

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