Monday, January 11, 2010

FRANK BRANGWYN (1867-1956)

Frank Brangwyn had a special talent for depicting grand structures such as cathedrals, bridges and ships.

He drew individual human beings the same way, as if they were monumental structures. He posed and rendered them with the kind of weight, grandeur and dignity he would have applied to a cathedral:

Brangwyn had an excellent eye for the glories of the secular world; he was able to show the magnificence-- and even the divinity-- of laborers working in a shipyard. That's part of what made his work so appealing to the public. However, he did not lead a particularly religious life.

Then, while he was still at he peak of his powers, Brangwyn became more interested in formal religion, and from the 1930's on, "devoted himself to religious art."

Biographer Libby Horner offered one explanation for Brangwyn's transformation:
As the artist grew older and faced mortality he produced more religious works in which he frequently included his own image as if he feared retribition for having been a "bad lot" and, in his own superstitous manner, was hoping to redeem himself.
I was reminded of Brangwyn when I received the new portfolio of his illustrations of the Stations of the Cross from Auad Publishing (the publisher responsible for the forthcoming book on the illustrator Robert Fawcett).

As you can see from the drawings in the Auad portfolio, Brangwyn never lost his gift for classical staging of figures:

The newly religious Brangwyn drew himself into a number of these drawings. Clearly he was wrestling with a lot of issues.

Brangwyn was internationally famous during his lifetime, but as he aged, the modern art world passed him by. Scholars will tell you that modern artists and writers became embittered by the horrors of World War I and the hard lesson that modern science would not necessarily be a tool for progress. Brangwyn's triumphal style gave way to abstraction and art that questioned fundamental principles of western civilization.

The once gregarious artist, who had found such glory in the secular world, led an increasingly reclusive and superstitious life and died in 1956.