NICOLL, Archibald Frank
A new biography of Nicoll, Archibald Frank appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Archibald Frank Nicoll was the son of a Scots pioneer and was born on 14 June 1886 at Lincoln, Canterbury. After attending school at Springston and, later, at the Christchurch Boys' High School, he worked in a shipping office and attended evening classes at Canterbury College School of Fine Arts under Sydney Thompson. He exhibited at Canterbury Society of Arts while still in his teens and at this time was influenced by the work of Van der Velden. After five years in the shipping office, Nicoll decided to devote himself to art and was appointed art instructor in the Elam School of Art, Auckland, remaining there for three years. Among his students were F. McCracken, R. Johnson, and J. Weeks. Realising the need for advanced study, Nicoll left for England on his own savings. He spent a few months at the Westminster Art School, London, and then transferred to the Edinburgh College of Art and, later, to the Scottish Academy Life Class in Edinburgh, where he won prizes for his work. Subsequently, he exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Glasgow Institute, and other important exhibitions in Scotland and also at the Royal Academy, London. During the three years he remained in Edinburgh (1911–14), he was elected to the membership of the Society of Scottish Artists. He was becoming established as a painter when, in 1914, he returned to New Zealand on a visit just in time to join the Dominion forces at the outbreak of war. In the same year he married Ellen, the eldest daughter of G. Fearn.
Nicoll was wounded during the war, and on being demobilised in New Zealand in 1918 he found it impossible to return to England. He therefore resumed his art activities in New Zealand. After two years' residence in Wellington, he was appointed in 1920 director of the Canterbury College School of Fine Arts, remaining director for eight years, meanwhile painting portraits and landscapes in his own time and exhibiting in the New Zealand galleries. He also sent works to the Australian Painters and Etchers Society and the Society of Artists, Sydney (1928). He resigned from the School of Art in 1928 and devoted his whole time to painting. In 1930 he was represented in the Royal Academy, London. At this time he specialised in landscapes, mostly around Canterbury, and in 1932 was awarded the Bledisloe Medal.
Nicoll was a member of the council of the Canterbury Art Society, of which he was president for two years, and was on the advisory committee of the McDougall Art Gallery and the committee of management of the National Art Gallery and the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. In 1948 he was awarded the O.B.E. Nicoll died on 2 February 1953, survived by his wife and one son.
Nicoll was a man of strong personality and decided opinions. In his painting he worked mostly in oil, using a bold and sweeping brush. A sound draughtsman, he had a facility in portraiture in a style somewhat akin to Raeburn that won for him, towards the end of his career, the reputation of being one of the most important portrait painters in New Zealand. He completed more than 100 commissioned portraits. While his physical handicap prevented him from painting the more rugged and inaccessible parts of New Zealand, his seascape and pastoral landscapes around Christchurch, though strongly influenced at first by the academic discipline of his Scottish training, became sunlit scenes marked by a sureness of touch and a warmth and freshness of colour.
He is represented in the public galleries in Wanganui, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin, the National Art Gallery, and in private collections in New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, and America.
by Thomas Esplin, D.A.(EDIN.), Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Home Science, University of Otago.
- Art in New Zealand, Vol. 4, 1931–32, Vol. 5, 1932–33.