Nicholas Chevalier was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1828 but he is best remembered as a popular Australian artist of many skills and accomplishments who traveled widely in his lifetime. His father was Swiss, and was living in Russia with his Russian wife, working as overseer of the estates of Prince Wittgenstein, aide-de-camp to Nicholas I. In 1845 the family returned to Switzerland, where Nicholas would spend the next six years studying painting in Lausanne and architecture in Munich, where he helped with plans for the palace of Ludwig I at Berchtesgaden. He moved to London in 1851 and worked as an illustrator in lithography and watercolor. In 1852 he exhibited two paintings at the Royal Academy, illustrated several books, designed the setting for the Koh-i-noor diamond and designed a fountain at Osborne for Queen Victoria.
Chevalier went on to study painting and drawing in Rome in 1853. In 1854 Chevalier sailed from London to Australia to join his father, who had invested in the Victoria area, and his brother who was working in the goldfields near Melbourne. The following year Chevalier got a job as a cartoonist on the newly established Melbourne Punch. Later he did illustrative work for the Illustrated Australian News and also worked in chromolithography, establishing the art form in Victoria where it flourished. It was in Melbourne that he met and married Caroline Wilkie, daughter of an old friend, herself an artist and relation of artist Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841).
The Chevaliers had no children and their home in Royal Terrace, Nicholson Street, Fitzroy, became a centre of a witty and cultivated circle of writers, artists, musicians, journalists and academics, many of them fellow members of the Society of Fine Arts and the Royal Society. Chevalier himself was a renaissance man- a brilliant linguist, fluent in French, English, Russian, German, Italian and Portuguese as well as a good amateur violinist and poet.
During his time in Australia he traveled to remote areas with explorer Georg von Neumayer on trips to remote areas of Victoria, gathering inspiration that would lead to a number of works including “The Buffalo Ranges” which would become the first work purchased for the new National Gallery of Victoria for their Melbourne collection.
In 1865 Chevalier visited New Zealand, and his paintings from the trip would be featured at the International Exhibition in Melbourne in 1866-67, and at the Paris Salon in 1868. In 1869 he joined HMS GALATEA as an artist with the Duke of Edinburgh, on the voyage East and back to London with stops in Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan, China, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India. The pictures painted during the voyage were exhibited at South Kensington for Queen Victoria.
From 1871 onward he was much in demand with many royal commissions and exhibitions at the Royal Academy. In January 1874 Chevalier was commissioned by Queen Victoria to travel to St Petersburg and paint a picture of the marriage of the Duke of Edinburgh. Though he suffered with health issues for a time in this period he would continue to travel as much as possible. From 1882 he was London adviser to the National Gallery of New South Wales. He died in London in 1902.
Works by Nicholas Chevalier are in the collections of:
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
The Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand
The Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii
The National Gallery of Victoria, Austrlia
The Ballarat Fine Art Gallery
The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
Along with many other important public and private collections worldwide