Landscape Revolutionary

Hugo Nicolas had given up his engineering ambitions and moved to No.8 Duke Street, Cardiff where he named the premises The Rembrandt Studio and with the broad brimmed hat, cravat and cloak became a photographic artist. Duke Street had been a fashionable street for photographers since 1871 when Thomas Louthwaite Howe occupied the same premises conveniently situated under the clock. The year that Hugo Nicolas turned professional was 1911, the last dated Cardiff photograph of Zwaan is dated 1912. Hugo’s brother Jakob got married in 1913 and in 1914 our Hugo, Hugo Junior as he was described, had a portrait accepted at the London Salon. It was a platinum print on Japanese vellum and is now in the RPS Collection. In view of his major source of income in the Cheltenham years it is worth recalling it was of a young boy. 

Significantly too and the Cheltenham parallel will be clear, Hugo Nicolas earned his living from his studio first in Duke Street and then after the war in Windsor Place but was a noted landscape photographer in his spare time. He was a founder member of the Wales and Monmouth Federation of Photographic Societies. A press cutting from the AP of 1912 describes him as a “well-known pictorial worker and personal friend of the late Horsley Hinton”.

The latter name should be familiar to every photo-historian. He died in 1908 and was at the time a member of the Linked Ring, the editor of the Amateur Photographer, a great personality, a prodigious writer and lecturer, and undoubtedly the most important publicist of the Pictorial movement. He was also blackballed at the RPS but that is another story! It is also possibly the reason that although his son took RPS honours at an early age Hugo Nicolas never did, even though pre First World War he was established in the photographic world. In the 1914 catalogue of the Wales and Monmouth Federation he is listed as a federation officer, designed the cover, had 12 exhibits and is listed as a vice-president of Barry YMCA. The Federation headquarters were Cardiff YMCA but whether there was a link I have no idea. Hugo Junior, so described, also exhibited. During the war, after one brush with the law, landscape photography was given up by Hugo Nicolas, for like Jakob he never became a British citizen. In another parallel Hugo Junior also had a brush with the law while landscape photographing in the second world war and he only took out British nationality then so that he could have the occasional use of his beloved car. In spite of not wishing to lose his Dutch nationality, Hugo does not seem to have gone back to Holland from 1900 to the 1950’s when his quaint accent amused the young Dutch. 

The partnership has some academic importance because prior to the war, Hugo Nicolas had a monogram and a signature without an N, so that we need external evidence to decide which Hugo took the photo. After about 1914 the monogram and signature included the N and the business stamp was either Hugo and Son or Hugo N and Son. When Hugo Junior left the family to make his own way in the world the stamp reverted to Hugo N but although he did not die until 1932 nothing of interest except portraits of Little Hugo have survived from the post war years. As he was nearly 60 so its hardly surprising.

Hugo, our Hugo, meanwhile was going from strength to strength. He joined the RPS in 1917, must have taken his ARPS in 1918 for in 1919 he became FRPS. He was also a founder member of the Institute of British Photographers, as it was then, and eventually added an FIBP. Apart from the 1914 Salon print he seems to have worked mostly from the new studio at 5 Windsor Place, Cardiff and few of his photographs from this period can be identified. It is possible he destroyed them or they were lost by neglect. He described them as monstrosities in a 1946 talk, the one entitled ‘Whither Pictorialism’ spelling it with an H.

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