EQ Nicholson and John Craxton

Drawing after Untitled Portrait, 1941, by John Craxton (Pallant House Gallery)
Drawing of painting: Untitled Portrait, 1941, by John Craxton (Pallant House Gallery)

John Craxton cites EQ Nicholson as a primary influence on him becoming an artist. Indeed Ian Collins’ fine monograph on Craxton quotes him calling E.Q an “instinctive transformer”. Elsie Queen, known as ‘EQ’, was a designer and painter (briefly studying at The Slade), married Ben Nicholson’s brother, Kit, and lived during WWII at the Mill House in Alderholt, Hampshire. Kit, an architect, designed a Modernist studio for Augustus John at nearby Fryern Court, Fordingbridge. EQ’s paintings are less known than her textile and interior design, and remain largely unseen although she did have a London exhibition at Hanover Gallery in 1950 with Keith Vaughan and Peter Rose Pulham. With Lucian Freud, Craxton visited the Mill House many times and E.Q became his closest female friend, writing her lively illustrated letters when he was not there. Craxton and E.Q spent time together painting when she inspired and encouraged him. At the current Pallant House exhibition, “The Nicholsons and their Circle”, which also includes work by Lucian Freud, William, Ben, Kit and Winifred Nicholson, it is good to have a rare glimpse of E.Q’s strong, well designed work alongside formative early work by Craxton. Images of shared subjects such as the stream beside the Mill House are touching in that they point to the intimacy and energy exchange of painting together. Yet most of the time one works alone, and I chose to draw a seemingly atypical Craxton painting of a self-absorbed man, perhaps an apt description of the painter himself, and a subject which relates to Craxton’s other pictures of lone poets. The exhibition is formed of paintings collected by EQ while at the Mill House and is on long term loan to the gallery. Hopefully the EQs and Craxtons will remain on show after the temporary exhibition comes down and descends into storage.