Painter, architecture painter, watercolourist, etcher, commercial artist and draughtsman
Few biographical details but an extensive oeuvre provide some idea of this artist who - a generation younger than Hubert Robert - adopted certain aspects of Robert's depictions of ruins. Since Nicolle never belonged to the Paris Academy, held no official posts and worked for a largely anonymous clientele, the chronological reference points we rely on for his contemporaries are lacking. He attended the newly founded école royale gratuite de dessin, where he was mainly trained in architectural practice (Grand Prix de Perspective in 1771). This was followed by years in the atelier of architect Petit-Radel. The subsequent period can be reconstructed only on the basis of his surviving works, according to which the artist lived in Italy, mainly in Rome, in 1787-98 and again in 1806-11. Nicolle did not develop anything fundamentally new, but nuances reveal a different kind of vision appropriate to the younger generation. He, too, made use of the architectural capriccio with staffage, but described the individual forms with a precision that also explains his fondness for topographical depictions. His figures either reflect contemporary fashions or borrow from older patterns, as here that of Salvator Rosa. In Nicolle's work, the quality of experience so important in Hubert Robert shifts to a unique combination of objectivity and picturesqueness, one that accorded with the taste of the period's more widely educated bourgeoisie. His technique, employing a pointed brush and watercolour, did so as well, though at times its bright colours placed it in unfortunate proximity to porcelain painting. His sheets are frequently signed but rarely dated. Since Nicolle apparently sketched from nature, then worked further at home and repeated specific motifs a number of times, the object pictured is only of limited help in dating. On the other hand, his was a more illustrative than pictorial method, so that in studying his sheets, it is the genre that is of greater interest than the individual achievement.