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with Mandell's Gallery, Norfolk, no. 480.
Sir John Arnesby Brown (1866-1955)
Sir John Arnesby Brown's timeless popularity is grounded in his ability to evoke, whether it be in his broad landscapes, animal studies or simple genre scenes, a strong sense of atmosphere. This is based in his, and his generation's, focus on blending of poetic feeling with plein air observation. In 1900 the Studio magazine coined the phrase 'New Romantic' to describe this movement, which could be seen as a response to French Impressionism. It firmly rooted the new style of painting in the tradition of the English Romantics of the early 19th Century.
By 1917, Charles Marriott, writing in the Studio, sought to explain Arnesby Brown's popularity further. He looked to the subject matter of his paintings, which tapped into the English love of the countryside and of animals. Certainly his broad and verdant landscapes captured an early Twentieth Century nostalgia for a way of life that was perceived as being threatened and which must have offered a haven from the cataclysm of the first world war.
Arnesby Brown was born in Nottingham and worked for a year in an office until 'commerce was once and for all abandoned' when he enrolled at Nottingham School of Art. He then entered into the studio of the landscape painter Andrew McCallum (1821-1902) where 'he studied in the open air' and 'learned the importance of seeing clearly and correctly' (The Artist, August 1933, p.187). This was followed by three years study at Hubert von Herkomers Art School at Bushey from 1889 to 1892. Portrait painting supplemented his early work and by the early 1890's he had saved enough money to move to the artist's colony at Newlyn where he came into contact with Julius Olson and Adrian Stokes amongst others.
Arnesby Brown exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy over a period of fifty one years from 1891 until 1942. His pictures achieved wide acclaim and were praised for their dignified compositions and restful qualities. In 1895 The Corporation of Manchester purchased The Drinking Pool (R.A., no. 111) and other institutional purchases followed with the acquisition of Morning (R.A., 1901, no. 428) and Silver Morning (R.A. 1910, no. 228) by the Chantrey Bequest. He was made an Associate in 1903 and a full Academician in 1915.
Despite being born in Nottingham, Arnesby Brown will always be associated with Norfolk and to a large extent this must be due to the light filled landscapes and broad skies that characterise his work. Brown often made the sky the main motif of his work and never considered it mere background. He thought skies of vital importance and played on the dramatic quality that a thunder cloud or a golden light gave to a composition. He first visited Norfolk in 1896 and spent the summer at Haddiscoe where he made studies of the moon rising over the marshes. These culmninated in Herald of the Night which was exhibited at the Royal Academy and bought by Worcester Art Gallery. Later the same year he married the portrait painter Mia Edwards and they choose to settle in Norfolk, first at Ludham and then at 'The White House' Haddiscoe. His house and it's surrounding topography became the subject of many of his pictures.
Once settled in Norfolk the artist's life took on a more regular pattern. He would spend the summer and autumn painting in Norfolk and would then go to a studio by the sea in St Ives where he would work on his pictures for the next year's exhibitions. In 1910 he purchased a house in Chelsea and substituted winters in Cornwall for winters in London.
This routine suited his technique, for although he greatly valued the directness and spontenaity that plein air study gave, he believed that the finished composition should be a distillation of 'all that he had to say on that subject' (The Artist, 1933, p. 187). Contemporary critics responded to his 'boldly architectural conception' and his representation of space. His broad effects and bold brushwork bore 'the strictest organic relation to the general design' (Studio vol. 71, 1917).
After the death of his wife in 1931 Arnesby Brown retired to Norfolk making only occasional sketching trips out of the county. His work, however, was still highly regarded and he was one of the artists that represented Britain at the 1934 Venice Biennale. In the same year Norwich Castle Museum held a retrospective exhibition of his work. He was knighted in 1938.
Four years after his death a memorial exhibition was held at Norwich Castle Museum in 1959. The paintings shown were from public and private collections including an oil on panel lent by Edward Seago.