Lot 213: JOHN BRETT, A.R.A. 1830-1902
Victorian & Edwardian Pictures
March 10, 2005
London, United Kingdom
signed with initials and dated 1864 l.r.
watercolour with bodycolour
On 11 August 1863 Brett left Gravesend on the SS Scotia, bound for the Bay of Naples. There he had an assignation with the mysterious Madame Loeser, with whom he was to be romantically involved for the next eighteen months. Her image is familiar to us from his enigmatic portrait Lady with a Dove (Tate Britain). This voyage was to be a memorable one, in which Brett's artistic career took a completely new turn. Stung by the refusal of his works by the Royal Academy selection committee that spring, he seems to have resolved to concentrate in future on maritime and coastal subjects. The first examples of this new approach were the oil, Massa, Bay of Naples exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1864 (Indianapolis Museum of Art) and the watercolour Near Sorrento (Birmingham City Art Gallery), both painted during the six weeks he spent in and around Sorrento from 9 September onwards. Two other pictures were also painted at this time, the watercolour sketch for Massa (sold Christie's, 4 April 1903), and the oil A NW Squall in the Mediterranean exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1864.
At the beginning of November Brett and Madame Loeser moved to the Quisisana Hotel on Capri, and at the turn of the year they made their way to Rome, where Brett rented a studio until the middle of March. It was then time for him to begin his journey home to try his luck at the 1864 Academy, so he left Rome by train, reaching Nice by 25 March. There he must have spent at least a week. While at Nice, Brett certainly painted two works - the unlocated oil View of the Corniche, which was bought by his principal patron Alfred Morrison (sold Christie's, 17 June 1899), and the present, hitherto unknown watercolour. It was painted at St Jean-Cap-Ferrat, looking east towards the Pointe St-Hospice, with the Golfe St-Hospice beyond. Villefranche Bay lay directly behind the artist as he worked. Brett's view is sadly unrecognisable today, owing to subsequent development.
This highly important picture shares many of the characteristics of Near Sorrento. The dimensions are almost identical, both works are painted from a high vantage point, and both portray beautifully fresh vistas with a similar range of colours and quality of execution. It can unquestionably rank among Brett's major watercolours of the 1860s.
Morpeth, Whalton Gallery;
Dimensions: 23 by 32 cm. ; 9 by 12 1/2 in.