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

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

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

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