The son of a stained-glass artist, Frampton was educated at Brighton Grammar School, where he was an exact contemporary of Beardsley. He then attended the Westminster School of Art (again like Beardsley), and after working with his father for seven years, spent lengthy periods studying in Italy and France. His highly formalised style owes much to his involvement with stained glass (which continued at least until 1918), and he acknowledged the influence of the early Italians, Puvis de Chavannes and Burne-Jones. The Burne-Jones retrospective exhibitions at the New Gallery in 1892 and 1898 were great formative experiences.
With such an artistic background it is not surprising that Frampton specialised in murals, carrying out schemes in a number of churches, often as war memorials, as well as some secular projects. Today, however, he is best known for his easel pictures, which he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy (1895-1923), the New Gallery, the Royal Society of British Artists (member 1894) and the (Royal) Institute of Oil Painters (member 1904). He also belonged to the Tempera Society (1907) and the Art Worker's Guild (1912), and had a one-man exhibition at Baillie's Gallery in 1914. For many years his paintings consisted of literary, religious and symbolist themes, but latterly he turned more to landscape, still working in the rigidly schematic style. He sought his subjects widely, finding them in Sussex, Cumberland, the Channel Islands, Brittany (which also inspired some Gauginesque figure compositions) and the Bernese Oberland. He died suddenly in Paris in November 1923 on his way to Austria, and is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Germain. A memorial exhibition was held at the Fine Art Society the following year.
The present painting is dated 1906, and is closely related to a figure of an angel in a mural that Frampton had painted at All Saints Church, Hastings, about a year earlier. The angel in the mural is standing, but his head, torso, wings and the globe he is holding are all taken over. A study for the mural, making the point very clearly, is illustrated in Rudolf Dircks, 'Mr E. Reginald Frampton', Art Journal, 1907, p. 295.
In fact, we can trace the pedigree of the figure back further, since the standing angel in the Hastings mural owes an obvious debt to Burne-Jones. Frampton was clearly thinking of the famous Days of Creation (Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard) and the magnificent Angels of the Hierachy in a window in the south transept in the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, dating from 1873. All these images would have been familiar to him, either from the Burne-Jones retrospective or from his close involvement with stained glass. A pilgrimage to see the great series of windows at Jesus would have been almost de rigueur for someone in his position.
Frampton was a keen sailor, and the present picture is characteristic in having a nautical theme. There are many other examples, among them The Passage of the Holy Grail to Sarras, exhibited at the New Gallery in 1907 and now in the Lloyd Webber Collection (fig. 1), The Voyage of St Brendan, which appeared at the New Gallery the following year and was sold in these Rooms in March 1995 (fig. 2) and The Childhood of Perseus which was shown at the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil-Colours in 1911. None of these, however, comes so close to our picture as Navigation an allegorical figure seated on an island in the sea, surrounded by sailing ships, in much the same way as the Angel of the Sea is here. Both figures, moreover, pay homage not only to Burne-Jones but to Michelangelo, who of course was Burne-Jones's hero too. Navigation was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1909, and is reproduced in photogravure in Dircks's article.