William Nicholson painting in Bonhams sale

Mrs Reginald McKenna, and Her Sons Michael and David, a conversation piece by Sir William Nicholson, is among the star lots in Bonhams 69-lot strong Modern British and Irish Art sale in London on June 21. It is estimated at £100,000-150,000.

Mrs Reginald McKenna and her sons, Michael and David by Sir William Nicholson

Pamela McKenna was the wife of Reginald Mckenna, Chairman of the Midland Bank (1919-1943) and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith’s wartime administration from 1914-1915. At the time of the painting – 1927 – her sons Michael and his younger brother David were pupils at Eton College where both boys were to become Captain of Boats. They both later attended Trinity College, Cambridge. In the painting David is depicted sitting in the wooden boat he had built himself while Michael balances on the stepping stones over the waterfall followed by the family’s pet dog and pony.

The setting is Seaward Island, an artificial construction in the lower lake in the grounds of the family’s country house at Mells Park. The house had been built by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the mid-1920s on the ruins of one that had burned down in 1917. (Pamela McKenna was the niece of Frances Horner whose family owned Mells Park and who lived in nearby Mells Manor. Mells Park was let to the McKennas at a peppercorn rent on the understanding that they built a replacement house). According to David McKenna Nicholson was particularly struck by the compositional possibilities and challenges presented by the waterfall as it cascaded into the lake.

Reginald McKenna was a long-standing patron of Nicholson who, by 1927, was firmly established as a painter of landscapes, portraits and still lifes in addition to his successful career as graphic artist and illustrator. Nicholson (1872-1949), who was knighted in 1936, was the father of the abstract artist, Ben Nicholson.

Ingram Reid, Bonhams Head of Sale for British and Irish Modern Art, said: “This wonderful piece shows Nicholson at his finest, boasting the tonal subtleties and complete mastery of brush work which give his paintings such market appeal. It perfectly captures a moment of family happiness on an idyllic summer’s day. At a moment when Nicholson’s paintings are in great demand, we are honoured to present this work, which has remained in the same family collection for close to 100 years, to the market for the very first time.”