Winifred Nicholson (nee Roberts) was born in Oxford, where her father was the liberal MP. He and others encouraged Winifred to paint from an early age. Her grandfather, the Earl of Carlisle was himself a painter and friend of Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. She undertook art studies at Byam Shaw School of Art in London where she was accused by the Director of 'seeing too many colours' - which she continued to do for the rest of her life. After her training she met and married artist Ben Nicholson in 1920. For the next eighteen years they worked together, although they lived apart from 1931 and they were divorced in 1938. The couple moved to their Cumberland home where she lived for the rest of her life before Ben met Barbara Hepworth, and subsequently spent much of his time with her in Paris.
Winifred and Ben Nicholson exhibited together at a number of galleries in the 1920s. Preparing for an exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1927 she was injured in a fall through a trapdoor. She was helped back to health by a Christian Science practitioner which influenced her decision to become a Christian Scientist. The vibrancy and use of colour earnt her great praise at her exhibitions.