Though a painter as well as a printmaker, Job Nixon was best known as an etcher of landscapes and figure subjects. He was the first to win the scholarship for engraving at the British School at Rome, and during his time in Italy he produced An Italian Festa, the large and complex plate that made his name. On his return to London, he soon became assistant to Malcolm Osborne in the engraving school of the Royal College of Art. During the later years of his short career, he worked in Cornwall and taught at the Slade School of Fine Art.
Job Nixon was born at 16 Charles Street, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, on 20 February 1891, the fourth of five children of the pottery printer, Job Nixon, and his wife, the pottery painter, Mary (née Ellerton). He grew up among pottery decorators and, on leaving school, entered the engraving department of Mintons.
He was subsequently apprenticed to an engraver who supplied copper plates for transfer printing to local pottery manufacturers. In the evenings, he studied at Stoke School of Art. However, he soon changed direction, becoming a butcher’s assistant, and rapidly succeeding in the trade, so that, while he was still in his teens, he employed four assistants, who helped him run two shops and a stall in Stoke Market Hall. He did not neglect his studies in art, and produced his own advertising, while also taking a position as assistant master at Burslem School of Art. By his late teens, he was living with his family at 240 London Road, Stoke-on-Trent.
In 1910, Nixon won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, in London, and there studied etching under Sir Frank Short. In 1915, while still a student, he began to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts. However, following the outbreak of the First World War, he joined the 4th Eastern Company of the Army Service Corps, during which time he produced theatrical scenery for camp entertainments. On his release in 1918, he took advantage of an army scholarship to further his studies under Henry Tonks at the Slade School of Fine Art. Ever enterprising, he also painted decorations for shop windows and bazaars and worked with the theatrical designer, Hugo Rumbold, at Covent Garden Opera.
In 1920, Nixon won the first scholarship of engraving to be endowed by the British School at Rome. As a result, he spent three years in Italy (and France), and produced, among other works, the large plate, An Italian Festa, which brought him to the attention of the public and, in 1923, led to his election as an associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. He was also appointed to a teaching post in the Engraving School of the Royal College of Art, as an assistant to Malcolm Obsborne, who succeeded Frank Short on his retirement in 1924. At this time, he was living at 45 Redcliffe Road, Chelsea.
In 1925, Nixon married Helen Wigan in Kensington, and they settled at Pembroke Walk Studios, later moving to Oakfield Street. However, by June 1929, he had begun an affair with Nina Berry, who was then an artist student, and this led to his wife divorcing him in 1930 on the grounds of adultery. During this period, he joined the New English Art Club, and joined and resigned from the Art Workers’ Guild.
Nixon was visiting Cornwall from at least as early as 1929, when he exhibited two watercolours of Falmouth. In 1931, at the urging of his friend, Lamorna Birch, he and Nina Berry settled in the county, at Riverside Studios, Lamorna Cove, so becoming members of Birch’s colony of artists. In that year, his painting, Gypsies, made a great impression as his first exhibit with the Newlyn Society of Artists, and won the ‘position of honour’. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1933, and of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1934.
In 1934, Nixon and Berry moved to St Ives. They worked at St Peter’s Studio and also ran a school of painting in Back Road West. However, a year later, they returned to London, and settled at 36 Danvers Street, Chelsea, so that Nixon could take up a teaching post at the Slade School of Fine Art. He also taught at Gravesend School of Art around this time.
Nixon married Nina Berry in Chelsea, in 1937, but died the following year, on 26 July 1938, while they were holidaying in their horse-drawn caravan at Mendham, Norfolk. A memorial group of his works was included later that year in the fifth annual exhibition of the Society of Staffordshire Artists, while a memorial exhibition of his paintings was held at the Colnaghi Gallery, London, in March 1939.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the British Museum and the V&A; the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford) and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery (Stoke-on-Trent); and the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco (CA).