Curator’s Choice – Pelago, Italy by Frank Brangwyn

Posted: 27th November 2020

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Pelago, Italy by Frank Brangwyn

Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867 – 1956) is a highly regarded figure of many artistic talents. His landscape painting of Pelago, Italy (1896) hangs in the Ferens Art Gallery.

The landscape is painted in tempera, and the colours have a pale pastel effect to their pigment. As you look at the painting, your eyes are first gripped by the arching footbridge which travels across the centre of the canvas towards the town on a hilltop. Spindly pale trees on the left and right, frame the composition. And emerging from the footbridge, figures in robes of pale blues, wind down the path towards the stream in the foreground. The scene possibly portrays the event of people being baptized in a stream.

I was drawn to this landscape firstly because of its calming colour palette and secondly because I felt pulled into the scene. I had a desire to follow the path and explore the town on the hilltop. Perhaps now, in the current climate, my sense of exploration is heightened.
Indeed, Brangwyn repeatedly painted landscape scenes to catalogue his many travels. Born to British parents in Bruges, Brangwyn moved to London as a child and travelled throughout Europe during his lifetime.

Perhaps lesser known today, Brangwyn was a very talented painter, watercolourist, illustrator, lithographer and designer. He was also a gifted artist-craftsman who trained in the workshops of William Morris; he created murals, furniture, textiles, stained glass and prints.
However, in his lifetime he was considered controversial. He was well-celebrated one minute and the next, considered radical.

He was honoured to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale and he was the first artist to be given a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy during his lifetime. He was also held in particularly high esteem internationally as Brangwyn’s murals were chosen for L’Art Nouveau in Paris, the Rockefeller Centre in New York and the Skinners Hall in London. Furthermore, if you were to visit Bruges you would be sure to see the museum in his name, Arenthuis, which was opened in 1936.
He was also unlucky. A major commission of a series of large panels on theme of the British Empire for the House of Lords was controversially rejected as they were thought to be too flamboyant. Devastatingly, Brangwyn suffered another blow and works are now lost to history as a key collection of oils burned down.

Yet it is estimated that he created some 12,000 artworks, making him one of the most prolific artists since Turner.

Ferens Art Gallery has a comprehensive collection of Brangwyn’s work, showcasing his skill as a printer, painter and draftsman. In 1936 Brangwyn exhibited a wide collection of drawings at the Ferens Art Gallery many of which are in the collection. The gallery also houses an impressive large scale bust of Brangwyn by the sculptor Sava Botzaris and a mesmerising portrait by the artist James Kerr-Lawson. Indeed, a visit to Ferens Art Gallery would put you face to face with Brangwyn himself.

Written by Exhibitions Assistant Stephanie Edwards.

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