Sir John Arnesby Brown

The river: afterglow

Oil on canvas: 35.5(h) x 43.3(w) in /

90.2(h) x 109.9(w) cm

Signed lower left: Arnesby Brown

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BP 101

 

SIR JOHN ARNESBY BROWN RA

Nottingham 1866 – 1955 Haddiscoe, Norfolk

 

The river: afterglow

 

Signed lower left: Arnesby Brown

Oil on canvas: 35 ½ x 43 ¼ in / 90.2 x 109.9 cm

Frame size: 46 x 54 in / 116.8 x 137.2 cm

In a ‘Whistler’ style gilded oak frame

 

Painted circa 1909

 

Provenance:

JA Arnesby Brown Collection

Mrs M. Skok

Richard Green, London, 1984

Private Collection, UK

Richard Green, London, 2004

Private collection, UK

 

Exhibited:

London, Royal Academy of Arts, Summer Exhibition, 1909, no.19

Rome, International Fine Arts Exhibition, 1911, no.135

London, Richard Green, Modern British Paintings, May 1985, no.38, p. 72, illus. p.73

 

Literature:

The Observer, ‘A Critical Survey’, P.G. Konody, 2nd May 1909, illustrated

The Manchester Guardian, ‘The Royal Academy: Second Notice’, Laurence Housman, 3rd May 1909

The Times, ‘The Royal Academy (Second Article)’, 3rd May 1909

The Studio, ‘The Royal Academy Exhibition 1909’, XLVII, no.195, June 1909, p 30, illus. p.32;

Royal Academy Pictures and Sculpture, 1909, illus. p.9

Isidore Spielmann (ed.), Souvenir of the British Section, International Fine Arts Exhibition, Rome, 1911,

p.193, illus. p.189

W Shaw Sparrow, Angling in British Art, 1923, illus. opposite p.75

 

Certainly Arnesby Brown’s most accomplished picture to date and perhaps of his career, The river: afterglow rightly received a great deal of attention from the press on exhibition at the Royal Academy of 1909: ‘“The River: Afterglow” of Mr. Arnesby Brown, which seems to indicate that from him also we may expect more sensitive work than any he has yet given us. He has shown before now a fondness for setting up foreground groups with their backs to the spectator – when they are watching water it is a sure method of provoking interest,– but he has never devised a group quite so naturally and so charmingly as this small gathering of children who, from under shadowing boughs, gaze down upon the dappled reflections of a broad stream that catches colour from a broken line of sunset-tinted roofs on the further bank. There is also in the picture a very pleasant sense of pattern, which, while in no way a departure from the truth, gives a nice decorative note to the composition.’[1]

 

It is likely that this delightful painting is a depiction of the River Bute at Wroxham at the heart of the Norfolk broads; the white boat on the horizon possibly the wherry yacht Olive, a carvel planked yacht built by the Wroxham boatbuilder, Ernest Collins in 1909 (restored and still afloat today).[2] Behind the yacht, Brown appears to have painted two Norfolk trading wherries with their distinctive white marking on the bow.[3] Brown’s earliest submissions to the Royal Academy included Cornish landscapes from St Ives and Carbis Bay during the 1890s and in the first decade of the twentieth century he painted a sequence of harbour views, including The harbour (Harris Museum & Art Gallery) and The pier (Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull) both dated 1905. The series culminated in The two piers, St Ives (private collection; study in Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1908, which set the immediate precedent for the present work, including a group of figures at the centre of the picture looking out to sea. Brown’s design in the present work is much more daring and detailed, cutting out the sky entirely and dividing the composition into three horizontal bands, the largest the eponymous river, reflecting in its beautiful post-impressionist pattern the tones of land and sky. The strength and subtlety of Brown’s complex arrangement is superbly balanced by his direct yet sensitive brushwork, capturing the elusive light in a charming scene of childhood nostalgia.

 

Arnesby Brown was born in Nottingham, where he spent his youth, before studying art under Sir Hubert von Herkomer at Bushey from 1889–1892. There he met Mia Edwards, an artist known primarily for her portraits of children, whom he married in 1896. They lived at the White House in Haddiscoe, Norfolk, where he spent the summers painting landscapes, whilst the winters were spent at St Ives, Cornwall until 1910. Brown was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1903, becoming a full member in 1915. He held a one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1909, a retrospective exhibition at the Norwich Castle Museum in 1935 and was knighted in 1938. Writing an appreciation of the artist on the occasion of his Memorial Exhibition in Norwich, AR Batchelor Wylam writes: ‘Few men have such clarity of vision or such sincerity. For him unquestionably truth and beauty are one. When singleness of heart is matched with mastery of paint, great works are born. His innate reverence and accomplished skill have given us landscapes in the finest tradition of English painting… Here is majesty of pattern and design, and here is delicious colour, and here, even in the biggest and most “finished” work, such a freshness, and such a delight in the handling of paint, as can never be anything but a joy to lovers of fine painting.’[4]

 

Study for The two piers

Oil on canvas: 30.5 x 36.8 cm

Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery

 

Best known as a landscapist influenced by the Barbizon School and the Impressionists, Sir John Arnesby Brown occasionally painted portraits and figure studies. Born in Nottingham, he studied at the Nottingham School of Art, and at Herkomer’s School at Bushey from 1889-1892. There he met Mia Edwards, an artist known primarily for her portraits of children, whom he married in 1896. They moved to the White House in Haddiscoe, Norfolk, where they spent the summers, whilst the winters were spent at St. Ives, Cornwall until 1910. They then took a home in Chelsea where they spent the winters until Mia’s death in 1931.

 

Arnesby Brown exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1890 – 1942, and was elected a Royal Academician in 1915. He had a one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1909, a retrospective exhibition at the Norwich Castle Museum in 1935, and was knighted in 1938.

[1] Laurence Housman,‘The Royal Academy: Second Notice’, The Manchester Guardian, 3rd May 1909.

[2] For further details on the history of Olive, see: http://www.wherryyachtcharter.org/olive.php

[3] We are grateful to Ian Piper for his assistance with the identification of these boats.

[4] AR Batchelor Wylam, ‘An appreciation’, Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Sir Arnesby Brown (1866–1955), exh. cat., Norwich Castle Museum, 1959, p.5.

Modern BritishSir John Arnesby Brown