A prominent ship and cargo broker operating from the ports of Le Havre and Rouen on the River Seine northwest of Paris, Nicolle proved to be an astute businessman. His financial success earned him the freedom to study and perform quality works of art. He held primarily to this passion for personal reasons as he kept his oils or gave them to family, friends and professional acquaintances. He exhibited in Rouen starting in 1864, and performed quite a few drawings and engravings for print and publications.
Part of Nicolle's endearing legacy is his role as the maternal grandfather of French artists Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Marcel Duchamp. He taught them his engraving skills, and partially paid for their formal university educations, all while encouraging their artistic passions. Jacques became an illustrator for Parisian newspapers, and organized the first Salon d'Automne in 1903. Raymond developed as an influential cubist of his time, and Marcel as one of the most important surrealists ever, after a period of military service and study at the Academy Julian.
Known subjects by Emile-Frederic include both working ports and landscapes on the roads between his business locations and Berville, as well as figurative portraits of human and animals. He was a contemporary of Eugene Boudin, and shares a sense of the brooding, somber skies of the Normandie Coast with the famous originator of impressionism.
Original works by Emile-Frederic Nicolle are extremely rare, with very few ever coming up for sale in public, while the Rouen museum is the largest single holder of his works.