A cornucopia of talent
Enjoys a small exhibition that sets the work of the multi-talented artist-designer in the context of the Arts-and-crafts enclave of Chipping Campden
Years ago, I remember hearing an old music hall song about the trials of being an artist’s model sung, I think, by Hetty King. The opening lines ‘My old man’s a painter at the royal academy/ all his subjects are very very eve and adamy/he paints them in the morning, he paints them at night/he paints them with his left hand, he paints them with his right’ put me in mind of Frank Brangwyn (1867–1956).
Between the 1890s and the early 1930s, Brangwyn was a towering artistic giant honoured by the French state, the crowned heads of Italy and Belgium and the leading art institutions of London, Chicago, Munich, Paris and Berlin. He designed stained-glass windows for Tiffany, decorated Siegfried Bing’s Maison de l’art Nouveau in Paris and painted murals in the State Capitol of Missouri and the rockefeller Center, New York, as well as Lloyd’s register of Shipping, London.
He also recorded the aftereffects of the Messina earthquake in watercolour and etchings, designed glassware for Powell’s, pottery for Doulton’s, carpets for Templeton’s and furniture for Pollard’s, in addition to contributing to Britain’s war effort through bold, patriotic posters and giving a gift of etchings and lithographs to the French nation to boost its morale.
When, in the early 1920s, the House of Lords decided to commission a large mural for the royal Gallery to commemorate the war dead of the empire, Brangwyn was a natural choice. However, by the time his ambitious scheme was completed, the empire was beginning to break up and their Lordships rejected it, marking the beginning of the decline of his reputation, from which it has yet to fully recover. The panels, however, found a permanent home in what is now the Brangwyn Hall at Swansea.
It was a bitter blow, but he carried on painting, etching, designing stained-glass windows and producing his great images of the Stations of the Cross in various media that adorn churches throughout the world. He supplied works for the Brangwyn Museum in his native city of Bruges and, together with his early patron, a. H. Mackmurdo, worked tirelessly for the establishment of the William Morris Gallery at Walthamstow, from where most of the exhibits in this exhibition have been drawn.
Brangwyn had no formal training, but was brought up in the creative atmosphere of his father’s ecclesiastic furnishing business in Bruges and, later, through an introduction from Mackmurdo, he served a semiapprenticeship in the workshops
Santa Maria Della Salute 1908: the scale and complexity of imagery set Brangwyn’s etchings in a league of their own