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Nockolds - Roy Anthony

Year working: 1911 – 1979

Roy Anthony Nockolds was the British artist who bridged the requirements of a commercial artist working for motoring publications to, in later days, producing motoring scenes and nostalgic pictures for collectors and enthusiast. Roy Nockolds was born in Croydon on the 24th January 1911 and died at his home near Farnham on the 7th April 1979. He was the last of seven children; one of his brothers Harold F. L. Nockolds also grew to fame in the motoring world as a motoring journalist. He was Editor of The Motor and author of several books including ‘Magic of a Name’ which deals with the history of Rolls-Royce. His mother Flora Mary van der Heyden was the great grand daughter of the Dutch art master of the same surname; hence it is likely that some of Roy’s talent came from that side of the family. His farther Walter Herbert Nockolds was a descendent of Norfolk farmers who had originally come to Britain from the Frisian Islands. His childhood would have been relatively affluent as his father had business interests in coal mines and cement production. Roy was brought up in Surrey and he attended school in Sutton. He always claimed that his only successful subject was art. This is confirmed by two certificates in the author’s possession for awards by the Royal Drawing Society in 1922 and 1923. According to Roy’s recollections he first visited Brooklands in 1924 where he became impressed by the power and speed of the racing cars. By 1926 (Age 15) he was producing motoring art, as confirmed by a letter from one of his school friends who says that Roy’s painting is on the wall of his bedroom. He returns the compliment with an eye witness account of the 1926 Grand prix du Salon at Monthlery in France, which featured a battle between the two Talbot racing cars of Seagrave and Divo. Harold, his brother mentions that by the time Roy was in his teens he was getting his pictures published in the motoring press. His early work was in a variety of media, mainly pencil and charcoal drawings, but he also used ink, scraperboard, lino cut and dry point etching. He also produced some watercolours but in the early days the colour is thin with little fluidity and the colour is secondary to the line work. Roy a was self taught artist, hence must have had great difficulty in competing with the two established UK artists of the time, Bryan de Grineau working for The Motor and F Gordon Crosby of The Autocar. It is not surprising that most of his early work was published by Motor Sport and Light Car. His stark black and white drawings and scraperboards provided some superb headings to columns and pages in the magazines. It is to his credit that Autocar were publishing full page reproductions of his etchings in 1932. Harold recalled that these early dry point etchings were produced using the point of an old school compass onto a copper sheet. In 1934 prints of his drawings were on sale to collectors via an advertisement in The Autocar. They cost two shillings and six pence in those days: if signed by the artist, they were three times the price! In December 1934 there was an exhibition of his work at the Lombard Restaurant, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. This is the first record the author has of Nockolds having a one-man exhibition. It is believed at this time Nockolds was working as a freelance artist not tied to any publication. At the same time his work was being used by The Motor to illustrate a weekly series of famous corners on racing circuits. Up to about 1934 Roy normally signed his name Roy A Nockolds but during the 1930’s the A was dropped. The larger works are signed with an underlined signature Roy Nockolds, with occasionally just the capital letters R.N., whereas the scraper boards and ink line drawings just have a capital N. There are a considerable number of unsigned works, principally due to manufacturer’s requirements for commissioning advertising works to be unsigned! This would appear to be true in the case of Lockheed brake manufacturers for whom Roy produced many works. Also many unsigned works were released by the disposal auction of the contents of the artist’s studio in 1989. Many of the pieces sold would have been working roughs or unfinished art. One interesting piece of art in the disposal sale was a painting of a Standard Flying 12 car. This would be either brochure or publicity material. The interesting thing about this picture which is definitely by Nockolds is that it is signed Van der Heyden, the old family name. It is expected that this pseudonym was for commercial reasons, as possibly Nockolds had a contract with another car manufacturer. It could also be that he used the name Hodge because in the artist’s own scrapbooks of his work there is a page from The Motor dated 6th December 1932. The printed illustration is signed Hodge yet underneath in pencil Nockolds has signed his name in pencil. The war came in 1939 and this meant an end of motor racing, a huge reduction in private motoring and together with a considerable reduction in the size of the all magazines and advertising. Roy did not immediately join the forces but worked from his London studio as a general illustrator and for the services, particularly the RAF producing propaganda art. It was in 1942 that Roy was asked to look at improving the camouflage of night fighters. He had noticed that a white owl is more difficult to see against a night sky than a dark bird. His idea was to paint the leading edge of the wing and underside of the aircraft white and the top of the aircraft black making it difficult to see from above and below. He prepared a painted model of a De Haviland Mosquito aircraft which was transferred to a full sized plane, resulting in the whole of 151 Mosquito Squadron being converted to the new scheme within days. He also investigated altering the appearance of the Typhoon fighter; due to its similarity to the German F.W. 190, several Typhoons had been shot down in error. Because of the specialist work he had been doing for the Ministry of Information (MOI) he was von deferred service but at the end of 1942 he was called up into the RAF as a Clerk. By 1943 he had been posted to the aircraft research station at Farnborough where he had civilian status. This gave him sufficient freedom of movement to continue the propaganda paintings and in his spare time accept commissions to supplement his income. He continued his work on camouflage of aircraft, particularly bombers, but also put forward his ideas on giving confusion to the enemy about the line of flight by trying with paint to alter the apparent wing shape. There is in existence a photograph of a camouflaged model dated September 1943 which was probably used by Nockolds after the war in evidence for due recognition of his important work on aircraft camouflage. He continued his claim into the 1950’s but never gained due acknowledgement. The commencement of motor racing and the growth of private motoring after the war resulted in more motoring art work together with regular aviation commissions particularly from RAF squadrons for paintings to hang in the mess. It was in this immediate post war period that his portrait of Flight Lieutenant Mc Richie was accepted by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1945, and he had a painting of his studio house at Carmel court accepted by the Royal Academy in 1949. Roy was married in 1948 to Elizabeth (Tina) Ingram and they subsequently had two daughters. He was also working part-time for The Motor magazine and there is a very interesting four page article in the issue of 8th March 1949 entitled ‘An Artist Abroad – Roy Nockolds describes a working holiday’. The article gives a very useful insight into the man and his art. He was lent a Daimler 2 litre Drop Head Coupe by Daimlers. This car features in two of the pictures painted during a European tour in the summer of 1949 in which he took in a visit to the Grand Prix at Monza. Many years ago I purchased a folio of most of the paintings executed during this visit. The one painting that was missing was the main feature of the Coupe on an alpine road. This picture eventually appeared about five years ago in a Sotheby’s Billingshurst auction. On the reverse is a note in Nockold’s hand presenting the painting to Harold Barker of Daimler thanking him for the loan of the car. The only other article written by Nockolds about his art is contained in the 1956 International Trophy race programme at Silverstone. In the 1950’s Nockolds continued to have many commissions from car makers such as Ford, jaguar, standard, Rover, Rolls-Royce and the Rootes Group plus component manufacturers e.g. Lockheed and Lucas. At the same time he expanded his non-aviation/automobile work into a notable series of abstract paintings for Mullard Electronics, which were entitled Guided Weapon, Communications, Television and Computers. Also he painted many wildlife, hunting, shooting, fishing and animal portraits which were in demand by enthusiasts as well as greetings card producers. The period post war was possibly the best time for Nockolds art and he produced many fine impressionist studies. He was a master of combining light and texture into his work and his famous portrait of Dick Seaman in the Mercedes is an excellent example. A similar period work is his portrait of Stirling Moss in the 250F Maserati. This is painted with a thick application of oil paint on board. The dappled light from the background counters the shimmering heat from the car and the serene reflections of the white light from the driver’s helmet and overalls. Many of his later works became more realistic in style and his use of colour became more muddy. Also to some extent in the author’s opinion the paintings became more staid, lacking in atmosphere. His work was displayed in many exhibitions in the UK and twenty four of his paintings were exhibited in New York in 1960. the exhibition was entitled ‘British Motoring Achievements’ and was a collection of paintings depicting outstanding performances of British cars during the previous ten years. These included the Vanwall and Cooper in Grand Prix, Monte Carlo and Alpine Rallies, speed records by MG and Austin, and Le Mans wins by Jaguar and Aston Martin. There was always a demand for views of Brooklands and pre-war motor racing scenes and much of his work was retrospective. Hence, it is often difficult to date when he produced the work. Nockolds very rarely dated his paintings and the only pieces that have been seen with dates come from the late 20’s and 30’s. The author has always been intrigued by the date of the first painting of Seaman in the Mercedes (there is more than one version!) The subject and feel is pre-war yet the technique is very much that of Nockolds in the 1950’s at his peak. Roy took a very keen interest of the Brooklands society founded in 1967 to foster the memory of the race track, cars and personalities and to create a full-time museum. He was an early Committee Member and chairman from 1976 to 1978 only resigning with the onset of ill health. He was generous to the society always prepared to give a painting for the annual raffle and give art for reproduction as Christmas cards. Roy is equally as famous for his aviation art and has produced many fine studies for aviation magazines, RAF and private commissions. His official war art is still present at many squadrons of theb RAF, and the most memorable piece is a large canvas 4 by 6 ft which was commissioned by Fighter command and entitled ‘A Day in the battle of Britain’. In 1959 he helped organise the first exhibition of aviation artists under the guise of the ‘Kronfield Social Club’, these beginnings led to the Society of Aviation Artists which via a 1971 breakaway group into today’s flourishing Guild of Aviation Artists. Roy was Trustee of the Guild and Chairman from 1975 to 1977. To many people his aviation art is of a higher overall standard than his motoring subjects. Principally for the reason that the aviation pictures are treated as a whole with a terrific technique of cloud and ground painting matching that of the aircraft. Some motoring works give undue detail to the car and driver and the background is somewhat of a secondary importance. Roy Nockolds had a very productive working life as a motoring artist and examples of his work can be found to suit every collector’s pocket, ranging from a few pounds up to £10,000 for the best studies. The price is very much dependent on the subject matter and the quality of the art. Nockolds was the man who publicised motoring art in Britain and moved it into the popular collecting field that we know now. Roy Nockolds was an extremely talented and versatile artist and we are very fortunate that such an interesting period in motoring history was so thoroughly and accurately documented.

Further reference


Nockolds sketching

Early work 1930 for Motor Sport magazine with Bentley leading an Aston Martin

1931 Motor Sport illustration of Nash at Shelsley Walsh

Bill Craig on Brooklands banking 1931

Brooklands 1931 battle along Railway Straight between Bentley and single seater Talbot

Art for The Motor signed HODGE and signed underneath by Nockolds

Example of 1934 scraperboard advertising work

One of a series of prints sold by Nockolds in 1934. Whitney Straight (Maserati) at Shelsley

1935 illustration of ERA at Dieppe GP.

Original scraperboard illustration of an MG Trial for Motor Sport magazine 1936 signed 'N'

Mercedes driver asking the way 1936

Auto Union illustration 1937

Wartime poster

Lockheed brakes advertising artwork 1948

Post-war retrospective art of Bugatti at Monaco

Post-war Brooklands 1931 retrospective art of Birkin driving a Maserati.