Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Frank William Brangwyn was born Guillaume François Brangwyn in Bruges, Belgium, on 12 May 1867. Frank's father, William Curtis Brangwyn, was an ecclesiastical architect who had moved to Bruges to paint murels and frescoes for Belgian churches as well as designing several buildings and reconstructing others (such as the church of Sint-Andries). Brangwyn did not receive any formal artistic training; instead, his father sent him to practice drawing at the South Kensington Museum where he met Harold Rathbone and Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, who both encouraged his work. Through Mackmurdo, Brangwyn was introduced to William Morris, who employed him as a glazier.
Brangwyn began to develop as a painter and his painting A Bit on the Esk was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1885. A passion for the sea led him to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and he developed a good reputation for his seascapes and landscapes. His oil painting Burial at Sea (now in the Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow) won a medal at the Paris Salon in 1891. Brangwyn travelled extensively and his first one-man show was entitled 'From Scheldt to Danube'.
Commercial illustrations for The Graphic expanded his audience and his reputation amongst the artistic community was high: he decorated the façade of the L'Art Nouveau gallery in Paris in 1895 and was one of the artists, along with Rodin and Whistler, invited to show his work at the first exhibition of the Vienna Secession group. Between 1902 and 1920 he executed a great many murals for buildings in London, Venice, Cleveland, Manitoba, Jefferson City, Leeds, Taormina (Sicily) and elsewhere. He was made an associate of the Royal Acaademy in 1904 and a member in 1919.
During the First World War, Brangwyn was an official war artist, designing many propaganda posters. After the war he was commissioned to produce a series of murals for the House of Lords, paid for by Lord Iveagh. The initial designs, depicting battle scenes, were thought too grim and Brangwyn started afresh, using vibrant colours to depict the achievements of Britain's colonies during the conflict. These were rejected by the Royal Fine Arts Commission and Brangwyn was understandably devastated.
After executing another large commission for the Rockefeller Center in New York, Brangwyn became more reclusive and pessimistic, a situation that had begun years earlier and contributed to by the death in 1924 of his wife, Lucy (née Ray, a nurse whom he had married in 1896). Brangwyn began to dispose of many of his possessions; over 400 pieces were gifted to Bruges in 1936 in order to establish a permanent museum in his native city; a substantial collection was also donated to the William Morris Museum, Walthamstow. A museum of Brangwyn and of de Belleroche was established at Orange, France, in 1947.
Brangwyn was knighted in 1941 and a major retrospective of his work was held at the Royal Academy in 1952 - the first living Academician to be so honoured. He died on 11 June 1956 at his home in Ditchling, Sussex, aged 89.
Examples of Brangwyn's work can be found for sale here.