John Colley Nixon


Date: [ 1780 ]

NXON (John) artist: 122 ORIGINAL DRAWINGS in pencil, ink, and wash, contained in a mid C19th quarto album, half leather with pebble grained cloth boards, approx 10.75 x 8.25 inches, recently restored, all edges gilt. The drawings which vary in size from 2.25 x 1.75 to 7 x 4 inches, are window mounted into the album leaves and are in Very Good plus condition. All but two of the drawings are numbered in ink in one of the margins. Some of the drawings have been removed by a previous owner- judging by the numbering, of a possible 223 images, 122 are still present in the album. What remains of the album is a strikingly vivid collection of portraits and other images, some bearing a “JN” monogram, some dated, and a couple with inscriptions in what we believe to be John Nixon’s hand. The provenance for the collection lies partly in a decorative mid-19th century bookplate on the front pastedown which reads “French Protestant Hospital Library . . . Haines Bequest.” The Nixon collection was rediscovered by the antiquarian bookseller Paul Minet, whose family, of Huguenot origin, had for two hundred years been on the board of directors of the French Hospital de la Providence, (London and then Rochester).Much of the Hospital material came up for sale at a series of auctions at Christie’s, as described in Minet’s obituary in The Times, 25/2/2012; “His greatest service to the hospital was bibliographical: the discovery in the basement of University College Library in Bloomsbury, where the combined library of the French Hospital and the Huguenot Society is housed, of albums containing several hundred watercolours by Thomas Rowlandson’s friend, John Nixon (1751—-1818). These were fascinating for their depictions of Regency life but, with two small exceptions retained by the hospital, of no Huguenot interest. A series of sales between 1973 and 1986 at Christie’s, — where by chance they were catalogued by a future director of the hospital, —raised £150,000, which helped to pay for two new flats for the disabled, and a common room on hospital land adjoining Rochester’s Roman city wall.” Some of the drawings bear monogram signatures, but drawing no. 80 showing a collection of three keys, bears a full J.Nixon fec [fecit]1778 and there are a number of examples of handwriting.John Colley Nixon [ca.1755-1818), was the son of Robert Nixon, an Irish merchant in London, who was the patron of J. M. W. Turner. John Nixon was in business as a merchant in Basinghall Street, London, and was a secretary to the Beefsteak Club. He seems to have been a rather bohemian character. Nixon was also an artist and engraver of caricatures and landscapes. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1781 and 1815 [39 paintings in total] and drew a number of views of the seats of the nobility and gentry in England and Ireland, [there are a few images of houses in the collection] which were engraved for a series published by William Watts. Nixon’s skills were recognised by his contemporaries. As his fencing master friend [and publisher of some of Nixon’s transformation playing cards] Henry Angelo says in his Reminiscences : He "drew characteristics with no mean skill. He could sketch a portrait, with a few scratches of his pencil of a party with such marked traits of resemblance, as to be known at a glance." The portrait drawings are not mere caricatures making fun of the sitter; they seem to us to be affectionate, respectful and non- judgemental. Nixon was a well known bon viveur , as guest and as host; “ the house which he shared with his brother Richard was well known for the liberal scale of "the bachelor's style housekeeping" practiced there. As he himself put it: "I have no objection to placing my knees under another man's table, but I had rather seat him at my own." . . . . “[1] He was also keen on the theatre as some of the later drawings in the album seem to show. He did not limit his appreciation to mere attendance at plays however, for he seems to have been acting with the Margravine of Anspach's theatrical group at Brandenburg House in Hammersmith and Benham Park near Newbury. His brother Richard, a clergyman, also exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy. John Nixon seems to have drawn quickly, from life, choosing a wide variety of sitters. He is known to have been a Special Juryman at the Guildhall Court which would have given him ample opportunity to sketch London “low life”. He was a close friend of Thomas Rowlandson, influencing and being influenced by him. Rowlandson apparently worked up some of Nixon’s drawings into etchings. He travelled to Bath with Rowlandson in 1792, and they collaborated on caricatures and satirical prints. The sketches could have acted as a design source-book or image bank- certainly the transformation playing cards that Nixon designed show similarities.[ He also collaborated with Grose on his “Antiquities”.] The numbering present on the drawings might be in Nixon’s hand, or might have been added by whoever gathered the album together from sketch books or individual leaves. Other numbered drawings from the album have apparently turned up at auction over the decades, usually with inscriptions denoting the subject. [Interestingly, the numerals written on the drawings and also on the album leaves are strikingly similar to numerals written on proofs of transformation playing cards designed by Nixon that we have seen for sale recently elsewhere, and which were part of a John Nixon scrapbook]. Most of the images are simple ink or pencil sketches, 13 are double-sided, 21 employ watercolour or wash, 6 are signed with initials [of which 5 are dated: 1776, 1778, 1780 (2), 1781], 5 have ms. notes [identifying 2 sitters - Thomas Preston of Serjeant’s Inn and Miss Paterson of Kings Arms Yard]; and 2 locations, [Guilford [sic] Castle and Lyndhurst Church]. 43 of the subjects are men, 22 women, 4 show both men and women, 21 are of diverse subject matter [including donkeys, lriver views, architectural and landscape studies, lions, a garden statue, etc.], 22 are designs, the majority either for theatrical scenery - including a depiction of a tightrope walker - or perhaps grotesque decorative infill for caricature , theatrical scenery or satirical subjects. Mallalieu [ see citation below] writes “…..His importance lies in the way in which he, unlike many of the other topographers and antiquaries, does so much more than present us with a dry and factual record of the country and buildings at a particular date. In his work we can see, perhaps even more than in the distortions and exaggerations of Rowlandson, exactly what people were like, what amused them and how they lived.” [1]Citation for quotes and character details extracted from COUNTRY LIFE-MAY 12, 1977 “JOHN NIXON AND HIS CIRCLE”. HUON MALLALIEU. Notes on restoration: The album had been partially disbound by a previous owner who had removed a quantity of the drawings, crudely cutting them from their leaves , leaving stubs and a quantity of disbound leaves. The boards were both unattached, endpapers and front free endpapers present. In restoration, the album has been completely disbound, stubs from missing leaves removed, and the loose leaves mounted on original stubs.The sections were reinforced where required and the whole re-sewn and bound back into the original boards retaining original endpapers. A new spine was added, and new corners.


Offered by John Underwood Antiquarian Books