William Nicholson (1872 - 1949):
President McKinley, 1901
Unmounted (ref: 1801)
Signed with initials and dated 1900, within the plate, titled in the margin
Lithographic reproduction of a hand-coloured woodcut, 10 x 9 in. (25.5 x 23 cm.) plate size, 21 5/8 x 15 in. (55 x 38 cm.) overall
Provenance: acquired directly from the William Heinemann archive in 2002.
This woodcut was originally made in 1900, the year Nicholson was awarded a gold medal for his woodcuts at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Early in 1900 - presumably in response to an invitation - Nicholson had sent a woodcut of the American president, William McKinley, to Harper & Brothers in New York; and the print had been published on the cover of the 30 June issue of Harper's Weekly at the time of McKinley's renomination. `It may lack some of that easy and decorative breadth which we are accustomed to look for in Mr Nicholson's original prints,' said a writer in the December 1901 issue of the Studio, `but if the hands are weak, or fidgety in treatment, the face has the right significance, being full of that inner weight of ease which the ill-starred President felt always under the burden of his high office.' On the strength of this woodcut, and also the Twelve Portraits series (which had made the artist's name widely known in America), Nicholson was invited to the States to make some more portraits for the magazine - this time from life.
On his arrival in New York, Nicholson went round to Franklin Square, where he discovered that it was presidential election year and Harper's wanted portraits of political figures. He was disappointed, for he had little interest in politicians - especially American ones - and he suggested a compromise: he would draw portraits of people like Governor Roosevelt and Boss Croker of Tammany Hall; but he would also depict celebrities from other spheres, in particular men from the worlds of art and science. Harper's agreed to this, and publicized the artist's arrival in the pages of their magazine. Nicholson, it was announced, would be in the States for about three months to `study the lineaments of a selected number of distinguished Americans'. Harper's added that the visit was an historic one. Normally, artists crossing the Atlantic were Americans travelling to Europe; Nicholson, claimed Harper's, was the first artist of any note to travel in the opposite direction.
McKinley was shot by an anarchist on 6 September 1901, and he died on 14 September. Heinemann responded to this event by publishing a lithographic reproduction of Nicholson's woodcut portrait of the President. This lithographic version was advertised at 2s 6d in the 21 September 1901 issue of the Outlook.
(William Nicholson, The Graphic Work, by Colin Campbell (Barrie & Jenkins Ltd 1992, pp 100 and 198)