Vincent Douglas Nickerson (1844-1910)
Vincent Douglas Nickerson (1844-1910). Pastel on paper measures 18 x 30 inches; 24 x 36 inches in original frame of the period. Depicted is a vessel owned and operated by J. C. Gilchrist, a documented Cleveland, Ohio and Great Lakes line. Very good condition with minor water stains in upper right and extreme upper center margin. Very minor foxing. Some discoloration in extreme right and left margins. Original wavy glass. The piece has intact backing paper although it is torn and taped in many areas. The piece has never been opened. Signed and dated lower left.
One of the earliest marine painters active in the populous Cleveland, Ohio, area was Vincent Douglas Nickerson. As with most of the Great lakes marine artists, very little is actually known about the careers of Nickerson and his contemporaries, Charles Wardlow Norton, Seth Arch Whipple, and Howard F. Sprague.Nickerson was born in 1844 in the Cleveland area, the son of a vessel agent and captain. He married Mary E. LaFrinier of a Cleveland shipbuilding family, which undoubtedly strengthened his ties to Great Lakes maritime activity. It is known that at one point he worked for his wife’s family as bookkeeper, and also found employment as a machinist and a laborer. There is no evidence Nickerson received any formal academic artistic training. Interestingly, his medium was largely confined to pastels and tempera.His paintings of sailing ships are effective folk artworks, entirely conventional in composition and coloring. Like most of his self-taught colleagues, he was primarily concerned with rendering in precise detail the specific nautical elements of his subjects. Undoubtedly this is explained as a reflection of the wishes of his clients, who were mostly, it is thought, shipping companies and ship owners or masters who desired an accurate and factual portrayal of their vessels. It is something of a truism for most nineteenth-century ship portraits that the value of such a painting lay for its owner-audience in its exact likeness to the original.In 1882, his name appears for the first time as an artist working out of a studio at the Central Tug Office near the Main Street Bridge in Cleveland. The convenient location of his studio on the busy Cleveland waterfront provided him with ready access to the docks where his subjects were berthed and where his patrons had their offices. Apparently he was prolific as an artist, for a the time of his death in 1910 the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that he had spent the last thirty years of his life exclusively as a marine artist. His obituary also mentions that a number of his works had been reproduced as chromolithographs.Although he was not the most accomplished of the major great Lakes marine artists, Nickerson’s work displays the evidence of a solid local reputation and well established patronage. His work provides modern students of Great Lake marine history with a fascinating and technically accurate record of the ships of the last quarter of the nineteenth century.