William Nicholson was the son of a wealthy Nottinghamshire industrialist. He trained in London at Herkomer's School alongside the Scottish students, Mabel and James Pryde, in 1888-89. After a year in Paris at the Académie Julian, he and James Pryde, as the 'Beggarstaff Brothers', collaborated on well-known series of posters. Although influential, this work was not commercially successful. From around 1900, encouraged by Whistler, Nicholson turned to painting in oils and became a successful portrait painter. He married Mabel Pryde in 1893, their eldest son, Ben Nicholson, became one of the leading figures of modern British art.